François Clemmons was born on April 23, 1945 in Birmingham, Alabama. He was raised in Youngstown, Ohio. When it was discovered that he had a singing voice of purity and power, he began performing locally at church functions. 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 even the lead singer of a rock ‘n’ roll group called The Jokers.
Dr. Clemmons received a Bachelor of Music degree from Oberlin College, and a Master of Fine Arts from Carnegie Mellon University.