François Clemmons is a singer, actor, playwright and university lecturer but he is perhaps best known for his television appearances as “Officer Clemmons” on the PBS television series Mr. Rogers Neighborhood from 1968 to 1993. Francois will be joining the autograph signing guests at the NorthEast ComicCon & Collectibles extravaganza March 13-15 at the Boxboro Regency Hotel in Boxborough MA. As a gay, African American trying to succeed in show business in the late 1960s he broke barriers, climbed the ladder and found a willing friend to assist in the wonderful Fred Rogers.
When it was discovered that he had an excellent singing voice, he began performing locally at church functions. He became choir director of his church at the age of 10. His first songs were the spirituals of pre-Civil War America, passed down to him by his mother. He soon branched out across genres, singing with various community groups. For a while, he was the lead singer of a rock ‘n’ roll group called the Jokers. Clemmons received a Bachelor of Music degree from Oberlin College, and a Master of Fine Arts from Carnegie Mellon University. He also received an honorary degree of Doctor of Arts from Middlebury College.
In 1968, Clemmons won the Metropolitan Opera auditions in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He went on to Cleveland, Ohio, where he won a position in the Metropolitan Opera Studio. He sang there professionally for seven seasons, performing over 70 roles with companies including The New York City Opera, Los Angeles Civic Light Opera, and Washington Civic Opera. He also sang with numerous orchestras, including the Cleveland Orchestra, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and the Philadelphia Orchestra and in 1976, he won a Grammy Award for a recording of Porgy and Bess. Francois performed the role of “Sportin’ Life” in that musical over 100 times.
For 25 years, Francois performed in the role of Officer Clemmons, a friendly neighborhood policeman, in the “Neighborhood of Make-Believe” on the children’s television show Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. In the neighborhood itself, Clemmons ran a singing and dance studio located in the building diagonally across the street from Mister Rogers’ house. He was one of the first African Americans to have a recurring role on a kids’ TV series, and his presentation as both a beloved neighbor to Mister Rogers and as a respected authority figure has been described as a ground-breaking message in race relations.
From 1997 until his retirement in 2013, Francois was the Alexander Twilight Artist in Residence and director of the Martin Luther King Spiritual Choir at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont and he is the Emeritus Artist in Residence.
While attending Oberlin College, Clemmons realized that he was gay, but remained closeted, fearing disapproval from his religious family and the community. In 1968, Fred Rogers told Clemmons that while his sexuality did not matter to him personally, Clemmons could not be “out” and continue appearing on Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, because of the scandal that would arise. In the late 1960s, Rogers and others suggested that Clemmons get married as a way to deal with his sexual orientation, which he did. His marriage to wife Carol did not work out, and Clemmons divorced in 1974 so that he could live openly as a gay man. Fred Rogers remained personally supportive of Clemmons, but required him to avoid any indication of his homosexuality, such as the earring he began to wear as a signifier, on the program.
Francois will be meeting fans, signing autographs, doing photo ops and offering Karaoke with fans.
Lots of entertainment, artists, comedy, concerts, cosplay, and exhibitors offering toys, comics, pop culture and original art. Admission is low, parking is free and children 10 and under are free admission with supervising adult.