François Clemmons, founder of the Harlem Spiritual Ensemble, will give a Martin Luther King Jr. Day concert at 8 p.m. Central Monday, Jan. 20, in Guerry Auditorium on the campus of the University of the South. He will be accompanied by pianist Kate Gridley for this program of spirituals. Mr. Clemmons was formerly artist in residence and director of the Martin Luther King Spiritual Choir at Middlebury College.
Mr. Clemmons is a professionally trained operatic tenor who is perhaps best known for the role of Officer Clemmons, a friendly neighborhood policeman, on the children's television show Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.
Born in Birmingham, Ala., Mr. Clemmons first learned of the joy of song from his mother, who sang traditional spirituals as she worked around the house. After earning his master’s degree at Carnegie Mellon University, Mr. Clemmons joined the company of the Metropolitan Opera Studio, playing classical and opera roles around the world. He has performed the role of Sportin’ Life in Porgy and Bess more than 200 times and earned a Grammy award for his 1973 recording of that role with the Cleveland Symphony.
Mr. Clemmons formed the Harlem Spiritual Ensemble to showcase the spirituals he first learned as a child. The Ensemble was dedicated to "preserving, sustaining and commissioning new and traditional arrangements of American Negro Spirituals for future generations."
Musician and painter Kate Gridley lives and paints in Middlebury, Vt. Gridley trained at the Mannes School of Music in New York for nine years, studying classical piano, theory and composition. In addition to founding the Allegro Chorus in Middlebury, Ms. Gridley has accompanied on piano numerous singers and stage productions for the past 15 years.