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François Clemmons was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1945 on the plantation where his great great grandmother Laura May’s family had been slaves, then he moved with his mother and siblings and aunts and cousins to Youngstown, Ohio during the Great Migration. Youngstown is where he started singing, and he never stopped singing. He sings in the middle of sentences, he sings on the way to the bathroom, he sings like the world depends on it, which maybe it does.
But you know him already. Or those of you who are of a certain age. For twenty-five years François played Officer Clemmons on Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. And recently he wrote a book about it, called Officer Clemmons.
Now he lives in Middlebury, Vermont. I drove over there to talk with him about his life in the South and about Mr. Rogers, one of the great loves of his life.
Credits and More
Clemmons’ memoir, Officer Clemmons
Additional music by Brian Clark
Article in Seven Days about François Clemmons by Dan Bolles. Thank you Dan for writing it.
Hi Erica, What a wonderful episode! Thank you for bringing these stories to us all. Truly a delight and a pleasure to hear!
I listened to this on my big tv speakers and Francois’ voice filled my small living room space and rocked my soul. HOW GREAT IT IS! This was the. best 40 minutes in a long long time; thank you both. Whoda thought that Officer Clemmons had such a rich life. I felt as if I were sitting with you on a porch as this life unfolded woven among the soulful songs , some of which were familiar to me as I am of the same era as Francois.
This is a truly monumental production. Never heard anything like it. His life and his presentation are truly operatic!. Talk about intersectionality! This deserves some kind of national recognition, Erica! Congratulations.
Well thank you Ben! I’m glad you liked it. He’s a remarkable guy and as you know I LOVE PEOPLE WHO SING SPONTANEOUSLY.
What soaring spirit and elaborate eloquence pours through Francois! And how superb is his singing! I admire everything he has to say, whether painful, poignant, horrible or exquisitely loving. His teenaged whorehouse debacle is a classic tale! His decription of the quietude surrounding Fred Rogers is pure poetry! And Erica’s asking him “How did you first know God?” is like a bolt of lightning illuminating its origin and its end in a fantastic flash that is nothing less than The Light Of The World.
My Dear Erica, To say ‘There are no words……’ would not even begin to express my deepest gratitude for the program you have put together!!!!! I was there, I heard every word, I experienced every emotion and still you with your extraordinary insights have taken it all to another blessed level. I give you my deepest gratitude. You’re an angel to have taken the time and given me so much. From My Heart: Blessed Be!!!!!!!! OfficerMaestroDrFrancoisDivaManScarborough Clemmons (November 23, 2020)
Erica….Truly, this is the Most Touching podcast episode that I have EVER listened to….transforming. I listened while working at home and my eyes filled with tears to hear Francois Clemmons’ story. One person’s story has such power to fill another person’s soul. A certain calmness has settled over me today. Thank you for seeking out his story–Mr. Clemmons is a National Treasure.
Wow i dont know how I missed this. Fantastic ,one fantastic interview. The best , so touching anf truthfully meaningful. Thank you so much