Vermont Arts Council

I am a Vermont Artist: Dr. François Scarborough Clemmons

To many people, the name “Officer Clemmons” evokes the friendly police officer with the melodious voice on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, a PBS staple for fifty years. The role of Officer Clemmons was charming and it was groundbreaking: in 1968, François Clemmons was the first African American to have a recurring role on a U.S. television series.

François Clemmons is well known for his twenty-five-year career on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, but that is just part of his rich and varied life as an artist. He is a Grammy Award-winning opera singer, founder of the Harlem Spiritual Ensemble, emeritus artist in residence at Middlebury College, actor, composer, arranger, playwright, author, activist, and mentor. The list goes on.

François was awarded an honorary doctorate of arts degree by Middlebury College in 1996. A year later, he moved to Vermont to become the director of the Middlebury College Choir. For seventeen years, he enriched the college community and its understanding of music, particularly the American Negro Spiritual. François retired from Middlebury College in 2013, but continues to share his artistry in music and in words throughout Vermont and beyond. Rumor has it that a memoir is in the works . . .

Talking Pictures, a Rutland Herald online video series, recently featured François. He discussed the “importance of music on the path to freedom for African slaves and his own experience growing up in a divided America.” Watch On my Journey Now.

learn more about François and his extraordinary career on his website
watch an interview with Paul Larson from Mountain Lake PBS
listen to an interview on NPR’s StoryCorps

The “I am a Vermont Artist” series explores how artists’ creative expressions reflect their experiences of ethnicity, gender identity, religion, disability, or age. Covering all artistic disciplines, and a range of backgrounds—from New Americans to the state’s first residents—we hope to amplify voices that deepen our understanding of what it means to be a Vermont artist.

Visit the series archive.