Officer Clemmons: A Memoir
The intimate debut memoir by the man known to the world as Mister Rogers' Neighborhood's Officer Clemmons, who made history as the first African American actor to have a recurring role on a children's television program.
When he created the role of Officer Clemmons on the award-winning television series Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, François Clemmons made history as the first African American actor to have a recurring role on a children's program. A new, wide world opened for Clemmons--but one that also required him to make painful personal choices and sacrifices. Officer Clemmons details Clemmons's incredible life story, beginning with his early years in Alabama and Ohio, marked by family trauma and loss, through his studies as a music major at Oberlin College, where Clemmons began to investigate and embrace his homosexuality, to a chance encounter with Fred Rogers that changed the whole course of both men's lives, leading to a deep, spiritual friendship and mentorship spanning nearly forty years.
From New York to Russia, Berlin to California, Grammy Award-winner Clemmons has performed for audiences around the world and remains a beloved figure. Evocative and intimate, and buoyed by its author's own vivacious, inimitable energy, Officer Clemmons chronicles a historical and enlightening life and career of a man who has brought joy to millions of adults and children, across generations and borders.
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About the AuthorDr. François S. 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 Doctor of Arts degree from Middlebury College. In 1973, he won a Grammy Award for a recording of Porgy and Bess; in 1986, he founded and directed the Harlem Spiritual Ensemble; and from 1997 until his retirement in 2013, Clemmons was the Alexander Twilight Artist in Residence and director of the Martin Luther King Spiritual Choir at Middlebury College in Vermont, where he currently resides.
Praise for Officer Clemmons
Library Journal, A 2020 Title to Watch
"It's important to acknowledge heroes who build bridges between all of us. Officer Clemmons offers readers the unique opportunity to understand how one man's life can have an unexpected, positive impact on millions of people. By sharing his lived truth, his artistic journey, and his friendship with Fred Rogers, Dr. Clemmons has written a memoir from a place of love and faith, in both God and in the power of music, as a gift to the world." --Common, Grammy Award-, Academy Award-, and Golden Globe-winning musician, actor, activist, and author of the New York Times bestselling memoir Let Love Have the Last Word
"Clemmons, who played Officer Clemmons on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, tells of his life as a gay African-American in the postwar era, in this uplifting memoir . . . Clemmons's thoroughly delightful, inspiring story will speak particularly to artists in marginalized communities." --Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"The extraordinary story of one of Mister Rogers' most groundbreaking and endearing 'neighbors, ' Officer Clemmons . . . A dear friend of Rogers for three decades, Clemmons offers a firsthand account of his work on Rogers' show, a story intertwined with the author's remarkable career as an operatic singer, actor, playwright, and choir director . . . A heartwarming story that explores the power of friendship as well as race, sexuality, talent, and identity." --Kirkus Reviews
"This memoir is a map of a vibrant and complex life told in a vibrant and complex voice, from childhood loss to a moving friendship with Fred Rogers to a career in music that involved global travel and a life marked by creativity. Clemmons is a skilled storyteller, and this memoir sings." --Electric Literature, 1 of 14 Highly Anticipated LGBTQ+ Books Coming This Season
"François Clemmons played Officer Clemmons on Mister Rogers (making him the first African American with a recurring role on a children's program), which would be reason enough for me to want to read his memoir. But Clemmons's life beyond his work on the show, and his friendship with Fred Rogers (who, unfortunately, advised him to marry a woman rather than accept that he was gay) was fascinating, as well." --Jessie Gaynor, Literary Hub, One of the Most Anticipated Books of the Year
"Officer Clemmons offers us a look into the life of a man who may have once been overlooked and is only now being appreciated for his unique and rippling influence on our society through friendship and a ferocious commitment to individuality." --Ashley C. Ford, author of Somebody's Daughter
"Clemmons in this book allows us such an act of tenderness and affection. Officer Clemmons is a window into a time that is rapidly being forgotten, a history of blackness and queerness, and perhaps most especially of beauty. But more than that, it traces and retraces with devoted clarity the path that leads from the horrifying pains of racism, violence, and homophobia to the blessings of love, spirit, friendship, and God. Dr. François S. Clemmons understands that his life, despite everything, is a gift. And here he shares that gift with us in a way that is both clear-eyed and softhearted. The effect for me is healing and wondrous." --Carvell Wallace, contributor to The New York Times Magazine, author of The Sixth Man, and host of the Finding Fred podcast