‘Diva Man and Friends’ to perform in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.
On the occasion of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, François Clemmons will present “Diva Man and Friends: A Special Concert in Honor of Martin Luther King Jr.” at 4 p.m. this Monday, Jan. 15, at the Champlain Valley Unitarian-Universalist Society in Middlebury.
Clemmons retired in 2013 after 22 years as the Alexander Twilight Artist-in-Residence at Middlebury College. For many years, he taught a popular Winter Term course on the Negro Spiritual. A crucial component of that experience was a concert on the MLK Weekend at Middlebury that became a much anticipated and appreciated annual community event.
François is a man of many accomplishments: he enjoyed a performance career with various opera companies; founded the Harlem Spiritual Ensemble and served 20 years as its director; performed the role of “Sportin’ Life” in Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” over 100 times; spent 22 years as Officer Clemmons on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
François is a proponent and likely the foremost practitioner of the Negro Spiritual. He considers his singing a form of teaching.
“When I taught the Winter Term course, I gave willing but hesitant white, Latino, Asian, and Native American students permission to sing spirituals, which are a part of the history of all of us. It’s our history,” he said with great emphasis. “It belongs to every one of us!
” François Clemmons will lead a special concert in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. at the CVUUS in Middlebury with songs, dance, poetry and art on Monday, Jan. 15, at 4 p.m.
Photo by Liza Sacheli
He goes on to explain that the harmonic structure of spirituals comes from Western music and the rhythm and syncopation come from Africa: “It’s Europe and Africa meeting in America!”
François will be performing on Monday with a number of his talented “friends.” He himself will be singing “Sit Down, Servant,” “There is a Balm in Gilead,” and Dr. King’s favorite hymn “Precious Lord.”
He will be joined in “I Been in the Storm So Long” by dancer Christal Brown. The Chair of the Dance Program at Middlebury College, Brown is a choreographer, educator, performer, writer and activist.
Chris Prickitt and Connie Leach will sing “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” and “Down by the River Side.” Poppy Rees will offer “Wade in the Water” and “Woke Up this Mornin’.”
Local poet Ted Scheu, “the Poetry Guy,” will read two short poems by Langston Hughes (“As I Grew Older” and “Still Here”) and his own poem “A Letter to Martin.” Also, Cornwall poet Nancy Means Wright will read “Ain’t I a Woman” by Sojourner Truth. Paul Stone of Stonewood Farm in Orwell is offering a portrait of Dr. King’s wife Coretta Scott King, “My Name is Coretta.”
“I think Coretta doesn’t get enough credit,” François said. “It’s important to recognize how strong she was. She was standing right next to him. She worked so hard to make this holiday happen, and also to establish the Memorial to Martin on the Mall in Washington — an indeed the King Center in Atlanta… There were lots of stalwart women in the Movement.”
In Monday’s celebration, the CVUUS Choir, under the direction of Lucy Tenenbaum, will be singing “Ella’s Song” by Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon of Sweet Honey in the Rock (Steve Maier, lead); “Quiet” by MILK/Connie Lim (Poppy Rees lead); and “Take Down These Walls” by Brian Tate (Neil Chippendale lead with François joining in).
Well-known local jazzman, Chuck Miller, is also participating in this King commemoration, playing “Hymn to Freedom” by Oscar Peterson, “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free” by Billy Taylor, and “Let All the Answers,” a composition of Chuck’s own.
“Diva Man and His Friends” promises to be a dynamic celebration in song of the glorious life of Martin Luther King Jr.
CVUUS is located at 2 Duane Court, very near Middlebury Union High School. For more information call (802) 388-8080 or visit cvuus.org.
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