Where are They Now? Pittsburgh Arts & Entertainment

Among them is a police officer who split his time as an opera singer on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

PHOTO BY VINCENT JONES

Francois Clemmons
Since Francois Clemmons’ time as both a police officer and joyous opera singer on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” he has founded the Harlem Spiritual Ensemble, earned an honorary doctorate and nabbed a Grammy. Oh, and the 74-year-old has a memoir coming out this spring.

Born in Alabama, Clemmons earned a bachelor of music degree from Oberlin College and became a regular on the PBS show from 1968 to 1993.

With all of the publicity surrounding the Fred Rogers’ documentary in 2018 and Marielle Heller’s 2019 film “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”, Clemmons has often been called into the spotlight to talk about his old role. He’s been vocal about the fact that he hid his homosexuality for much of his life as well as the fact that Rogers was encouraging of him marrying a woman, which he did; they divorced after six years.

He explores all this and more in his upcoming book, “Officer Clemmons: A Memoir,” which is set to come out in May.

“I felt it was important to discuss my spiritual journey as a gay man,” Clemmons said in a release. “God loves me, gay men, gay boys, and girls, and women. And of course I tell them in my personal appearances that God loves trans folks too. Because of, ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor,’ I now regularly hear from gay fans as well as trans individuals. As I travel to college campuses and lecture and read or sing, I meet with different groups, and they all ask the same question: Would Mr. Rogers have loved me? And I tell them YES. They also want to know if I love them. Again, I tell them YES.”

In a 2018 interview with Vanity Fair, Clemmons said Rogers, an ordained minister, never was judgmental or off-put by his sexuality, merely cognizant of the times they lived in. It was ultimately Clemmons’ decision not to come out earlier in life.

“I had a full conversation with Fred about what it could possibly do to the program and to my role on the program, and I didn’t feel I wanted to risk it,” he told the magazine.

Rogers was widely praised for his close relationship with Clemmons, a black man, in a show that aired during the Civil Rights movement.

“I didn’t want to hurt the man who was giving me so much, and I also knew the value as a black performer of having this show, this platform,” Clemmons told Vanity Fair.

Clemmons, who called Rogers a surrogate father, channeled his love for children into his role at Middlebury College in Vermont, where he was the artist-in-residence for 15 years and director of its Martin Luther King Spiritual Choir. He remains Emeritus Artist in Residence of Middlebury College.

Virginia Montanez
When she’s not calling out politicians or media personalities on Twitter with a perfect blend of wit and honesty, Virginia Montanez is sharing fun facts she’s learned combing the archives of Pittsburgh’s history and loving on Mister Rogers just as she has been for the last 15 years. Montanez began her stint as local blogger “PittGirl” in 2005, unmasked herself in 2009 and joined Pittsburgh Magazine the same year; she decided to step back in 2016. She took some time to focus on family — she has a 17-year-old son and a 13-year-old daughter with autism — and has been working on two books. “That is where my creative energy is currently placed,” she said via email. She’s used her voice not only to call the issues as she saw them but to make a difference. In 2009, she started Make Room for Kids, a nonprofit through the Mario Lemieux Foundation that has installed nearly 400 Xboxes for children in Pittsburgh’s hospitals to get them through their stays; it’s nearing the half-million mark in donations of games and movies.

Tom Sokolowski
After stepping down as director of The Andy Warhol Museum in 2010, a role he held for 14 years, Tom Sokolowski became the director of Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University in 2017. The Zimmerli Art Museum is one of the largest university-based museums in the country, housing more than 60,000 works of art.

Abby Lee Miller
Abby Lee Miller of “Dance Moms” is once again running the Abby Lee Dance Co. on the Pittsburgh-based reality show. After serving a stint in prison for bankruptcy fraud, Miller filmed the show’s eighth season while battling Burkitt lymphoma.

PHOTO BY MICHAEL CANNON

Marc Masterson
City Theatre’s founder is back. After stints in Louisville, Kentucky and Orange County, California, Marc Masterson was named City Theatre’s artistic director in 2018, most recently directing “Downstairs” in 2020.

Shirley Jones
Shirley Jones, “The Partridge Family” maven and Washington County-born Broadway star, is still acting, with roles in two movies slated for release in 2021.

Categories: Community Feature