MIDDLEBURY, Vt.-The multi-talented and dynamic tenor, François Clemmons, will present a concert of Irish songs in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day at 7:30 p.m., Friday, March 18, in Middlebury College’s Mead Chapel. The event is free and open to the public.
Clemmons promises to include old favorites like “O Danny Boy” and “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling,” and he hopes the audience will sing along.
The founder and former director of the Harlem Spiritual Ensemble, Clemmons is Middlebury College’s Twilight Artist-in-Residence, a position commemorating Alexander Twilight, an 1823 Middlebury graduate and the first African-American in the United States to receive a college degree. Clemmons’ expertise and passion is the American Negro spiritual-its history, its performance and its influence on American culture. His roles on campus vary from instructor and student adviser to performer and choir director. He is also a respected voice in discussions on racial diversity.
Clemmons’ career has included performing with the New York Metropolitan Opera, and creating and performing the role of Officer Clemmons in the classic PBS children’s television series “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” He has performed the role of Sportin’ Life from George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” more than 100 times. His recording of the role on London Records with the Cleveland Orchestra won a Grammy Award in 1973.
Clemmons says his time at Middlebury has inspired him to explore the music of other cultures. “Since coming to Middlebury, I’ve started a romance with different repertoires,” he said. It has not been a huge stretch, either, Clemmons explained. “Being on a campus with a rich tradition of language study, it seemed natural to let my musical curiosity lead me in new directions. Along the way, I’ve found language coaches to help me get it right.
“In the past year or so, I’ve performed in Italian, Russian, Spanish, German and even Japanese. It’s an exciting adventure, learning world music,” Clemmons said. “I’m having a fantastic time.”
He came across a wealth of Irish music not long ago and has enjoyed its sound and storytelling. The idea for the St. Patrick’s Day concert was his. Because the date falls at the start of Middlebury’s spring break, Clemmons said he hopes the event will appeal to the wider community, drawing an audience of young and old who would like to hear and share some fun and interesting songs of the season.
He promises all the selections will be in English. As tempting as it may have been to learn some Gaelic, Clemmons said that was a challenge he wasn’t prepared to tackle quickly. “I’m saving my musical-linguistic energy for an upcoming concert featuring Yiddish songs,” he said.
Mead Chapel is on Hepburn Road off College Street (Route 125). The concert is free and open to the public. There will be no tickets or reservations. For more information, contact the Middlebury College Center for the Arts at www.middlebury.edu/arts or 802-443-6433.
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