Rokeby celebrates opening with prestigious performance

The inimitable Francois Clemmons will sing “Songs of Freedom” to celebrate the 180th anniversary of the Vermont Anti-Slavery Society founding and the 2014 opening of Rokeby Museum on Sunday, May 18 at 3pm.

More than 100 Vermonters gathered in Middlebury in May 1834 to “declare war on slavery” and to found an organization to carry it out. These radical Vermonters believed that slavery was a sin, and so they called for the immediate emancipation of all slaves.

During those same decades that Vermont abolitionists agitated for an end to slavery, African Americans – both enslaved and free – often expressed their opposition in song. Raised in a musical household in Ohio, Clemmons grew up hearing his mother sing traditional spirituals while she worked, and he’s been singing ever since.

After graduating from Oberlin College and Carnegie Mellon University, Clemmons won a place in the Metropolitan Opera, where he played more than 70 classical and opera roles during seven seasons. Hungry to showcase the spirituals he first learned as a child in his mother’s kitchen, Clemmons formed his own musical group, the Harlem Spiritual Ensemble. The Ensemble performed faithful interpretations of this important historical and cultural art form. The music offered a sense of hope: transcendence from the toil of everyday life into a realm of spirituality and freedom.

Lucky for Vermont, Clemmons joined the faculty at Middlebury College in 1997 and was later named the Alexander Twilight Artist-in-Residence. He retired from the college last May, but continues to live and sing in Vermont.

For more information contact Jane Williamson at