April 23rd People

April 23rd

04-23-1945   François Clemmons – Born in Birmingham, Alabama. He is an American singer, actor, playwright, and university lecturer. Clemmons is best know as “Officer Clemmons” on the PBS television series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood from 1968 to 1993. In 1968, Clemmons won the Metropolitan Opera auditions in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 1973, he won a Grammy Award for a recording of Porgy and Bess. Clemmons was one of the first African Americans to have a recurring role on a kids’ TV series, and his relationship with Mr. Rogers was ground breaking in race relations. While in college, Clemmons realized he was gay, but remained closeted, fearing disapproval from his religious family and the community. In 1968, Rogers told Clemmons that his sexuality didn’t matter to him personally, but that Clemmons couldn’t be “out” and continue appearing on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, because of the scandal it would cause. In the 2018 documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Clemmons talks about working with Rogers and what it was like to have to stay in the closet. Currently, Clemmons lives and works in Middlebury, Vermont, where he is the Emeritus Artist in Residence of Middlebury College.

04-23-1858 – 05-08-1944 Ethel Smyth – Born in Sidcup, United Kingdom. She was an English composer and a leader of the women’s suffrage movement. Her compositions included songs, works for piano, chamber music, orchestral and concertante works, choral Ethel Smythworks, and operas. From 1913 onwards, she began to gradually lose her hearing and managed to complete only four more major works before deafness brought her composing career to an end. However, she found a new interest in literature and, between 1919 and 1940, she published ten highly successful, mostly autobiographical, books. In recognition of her work as a composer and writer, Smyth was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1922. Smyth had several passionate affairs in her life, most of them with women. Her philosopher-friend and librettist of some of her operas, Henry Bennet Brewster, may have been her only male lover. Smyth was at one time in love with the married suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst. At the age of 71 she fell in love with writer Virginia Woolf, who, both blamed and amused, said it was “like being caught by a giant crab,” but the two became friends. Smyth’s relationship with Violet Gordon-Woodhouse is depicted satirically in Roger Scruton’s 2005 opera, Violet.

04-23-1875 – 12-06-1954 Élisabeth de Gramont (Duchess of Clermont-Tonnerre) – Born in Nancy, France. She was a French writer. Best known for her long term relationship with Natalie Barney. She was a descendant of Henry IV of France and grew up among the highest aristocracy when she was a child. She looked back on the lost of wealth and Elisabeth de Gramontprivilege with little regret, and became known as the “red duchess” for her support of socialism. She was a close friend, and sometimes critic, of writer Marcel Proust, whom she had met on June 9, 1903. Her mother died giving birth to her, and her father remarried the wealthy Marguerite de Rothschild. Élisabeth met Natalie Barney in the spring of 1909. They became lovers on May 1, 1910, a date that became their anniversary. Although neither was faithful to the other sexually, they were devoted to one another for their entire lives.

04-23-1876 – 1968 Mary Ellicott Arnold – Born in New Brighton, New York City, New York. She was an American social activist, teacher, and writer, best known for In the Land of the Grasshopper Song co-written with Mabel Reed. From the time they were both sixteen,Mary Ellicott Arnold Arnold and Reed had a friendship, that later matured into a life partnership. Arnold’s papers and correspondence are housed at Friends Historical Library, Swarthmore College and the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. In 2003, playwright Lauren Wilson adapted In the Land of the Grasshopper Song for the stage as a musical comedy.

04-23-1895 – 08-31-1983 Alice DeLamar – Born in New York City, New York. She was a Colorado mine heiress and one of America’s youngest and richest heiresses. DeLamar was Eva Le Gallienne’s lover and financial supporter of the Civic Repertory Theatre in New York, founded by Le Gallienne. DeLamar was her patron for sixty years and left her a million dollars in 1982. She was also a patron of art, ballet and theater. DeLamar died on August 31, 1983. On September 3, she was creamated but she had made no arrangement for what was to happen to her ashes. Finally, her black chauffeur, Charles Edwards, carried her urn to the Royal Palm Memorial Gardens in Palm Beach, because his girlfriend was working there in the funeral home, so DeLamar’s ashes are buried in an all-black cemetery. Edwards said of DeLamar, “She knew people, she knew their limits, but she did not look at their shortcomings but only to the good in each of them.” Many of her servants had been with her for years and she did not forget them at the end.

04-23-1961 – 10-01-2012 Dirk Bach – Born in Cologne, Germany. He was a German television comedy actor, voice actor and moderator. Bach is best known as Pepe in the Dirk BachGerman version of Sesame Street. He was openly gay and had a partner, Thomas. He died of a heart attack in Berlin. Bach was an activist for LGBT rights.

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