Clarence Clemons - Class of 1964
PRINCESS ANNE, MD -- (July 7, 2011) -- From the time Clarence Anicholas Clemons Jr. stepped on to the Maryland State College campus in the fall of 1960, he and his peers sensed he would go on to bigger things.
His football teammates thought the tall, muscular freshman from Norfolk, Va., might be talented enough to play professionally.
Others remember him playing saxophone and heard a career in music ahead.
Clemons, indeed, became a pop music legend. He died June 18, 2011 of complications from a stroke. He was 69.
An international outpouring of tributes by news organizations reported his death with lengthy obituaries featuring photos of him on stage with his tenor sax. Some chose to publish pictures of him playing football at his alma mater, where he was a team captain his senior year.
Clemons burst into the national conscientiousness in the mid-1970s as the charismatic saxophonist for Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band.
The group's 1975 breakthrough album -- Born to Run -- featured an image of Springsteen on the cover leaning against Clemons -- a black-and-white photo of a black man and white man who shared a love of rock 'n roll that would define their careers and their relationship for the rest of their lives.
Clemons talents took him around the world, but he found his way back to campus in 2010 when he accepted an invitation to attend a scholarship fund-raiser. A health problem forced him to postpone that visit until spring commencement, where he received an honorary degree at the May 21st ceremony.
A posting on his social network site that morning described it as "a very special moment in my life."
He expressed his appreciation by performing "Garden of Memories" on his ever-present saxophone, dedicating the soulful song to deceased alumni.
His father, who owned a fish market in the Tidewater, Va. area, gave Clemons an alto saxophone for Christmas at age nine, and he would carry the instrument everywhere he went for the next 60 years.
"I grew up with a very religious background," he once told an interviewer. "I got into the soul music, but I wanted to rock. I was a born rock 'n roll sax player."
Clemons came to Princess Anne to major in music education and play football. He evolved into an imposing, energetic presence on the field and in local nightclubs, where he was well-known for his sax playing.
Audrey Jones Gill, Class of 1963, occasionally sang with the Vibratones, a musical group Clemons helped organize. The band practiced in the original Kiah Hall and Gill said "I would go up there and start singing" early Motown hits -- especially those made popular by Mary Wells.
"We had a lot of fun in those days," Gill said. "There was so much talent in that band we just didn t know how much."
Emerson Boozer, who went on to a stellar professional football career, had an inkling.
"You couldn't sleep at night if you were on the same (dorm) floor with him," Boozer said. "He'd be blowing that sax. He was musically inclined then."
A 1961 yearbook photo shows Clemons as a freshman with " 'THE' Combo that can't go wrong - freshman Benny Goodman on piano, freshman Willie S. Joyner on drums ... and senior Godfrey E. Mills on trombone."
Earl Christy remembers Clemons as a strong, aggressive center and guard on the football team.
"He had a lot of desire ... second to none," Christy told the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper in February 2011. "When he brought it, he brought it every play."
Maryland State, as UMES was known then, routinely produced athletes who played professional football. At 6-feet 4-inches and over 250 pounds -- hence the nickname "Big Man" -- Clemons harbored those dreams as well.
After college, Clemons played semi-pro football in New Jersey, where he worked with UMES alumnus Charles Holmes as a counselor in a state-run youth home. He was set to try out for the Cleveland Browns in 1968 when he was badly injured in a near-fatal single-car accident.
Marshall J. Cropper, director of UMES' Golf Academy, was a sophomore on the Maryland State football team during Clemons' final collegiate season in the fall of 1963.
"He was a senior leader," Cropper said. "And he always enjoyed music."
"I think we all got a lot of pleasure seeing him be successful," Cropper said. "He was good enough to play pro ball, I know that."
After the car accident, Clemons decided to stick with playing music and eventually encountered Springsteen on the Jersey Shore, where the two were fixtures on the local club scene. The pairing made them entertainment icons.
In addition to his career with the E Street Band, Clemons also performed solo and with a diverse group of other artists, including Aretha Franklin, Jackson Browne, Roy Orbison, Ringo Starr and most recently, Lady Gaga.
In 2009, he put out an autobiography, "Big Man: Real Life and Tall Tales."
He is survived by his wife, Victoria, and four sons: Clarence Jr., Charles, Christopher and Jarod.
WESM 91.3 FM to air Clemons tribute June 25
PRINCESS ANNE, MD (June 21, 2011) WESM 91.3 FM, based on the University of Maryland Eastern Shore campus, will broadcast a one-hour musical retrospective Saturday on the late Clarence Clemons.
Clemons, a UMES alumnus who went on to fame as a rock n roll saxophonist, died June 18 from complications of a stroke he suffered six days earlier.
The Best of Clarence Clemons airs from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. WESM temporarily steps away from its jazz and blues format to pay tribute to Clemons, who attended the university in the early 1960s.
Interim station manager Stephen A. Williams said WESM obtained the rights to the 58-minute program from Public Radio Exchange (PRX) because it saw an exclusive opportunity to honor an accomplished artist and alumnus.