THUMBNAIL BIOGRAPHY of CLEVE FRANCIS
Cleveland “Cleve” Francis, Jr. was born and raised near Jennings, Louisiana. Jefferson Davis County is Cajun country, known for its rich farmland, oil wells and spicy home cooking. The importance of music to this area is best underscored by the fact that just a few miles away is the birthplace of America’s gift to the world . . . Jazz . . . a magnificent amalgam of African, Cajun and rural American rhythms.
It was into this rich blend of sounds that young Cleve first became aware of his own musical voice. At just eight years old he felt so moved by the varied notes heard over the radio that he summoned up the courage to ask his mother for a guitar he knew they could ill afford. Seeing the enthusiasm in her son’s eyes, or perhaps sensing his natural talent, Mrs. Francis struck a bargain with her son that would shape his lifetime.
Cleve’s mother agreed to purchase the instrument, under the condition that Cleve get all his homework done and study very hard. With the agreement set, Mrs. Francis saved quarters for nearly a year until she was able to purchase a Silvertone guitar from the Sears and Roebuck catalogue. And, good to his word, Cleve excelled in his schoolwork as he slowly developed his musical skills.
It wasn’t long before Cleve became the accompanying guitarist for a local gospel quartet known as the MidSouth Spiritual Singers. In addition to touring on weekends with the group, he also played the tuba in his high school band, as well as becoming the musical director of its chorus. Despite Cleve’s obvious musical abilities, his mother knew that the only certain road out of the poverty and segregation of the rural south was through a solid education. After high school graduation Cleve was enrolled at Southern University in Baton Rouge.
While attending the university Cleve met Dr. Huel Perkins, head of the music department. Dr. Perkins challenged his students by posing the question: “What do you bring to this university?” It was during one such interrogatory that Cleve reluctantly admitted that he played the guitar and sang. Fascinated, the Doctor set up an appointment to hear a sample of his student’s abilities. A session that was scheduled to last 20 minutes ended up spanning the course of an entire day, including recording of several country ballads. In fact, Dr. Perkins was so impressed with Cleve that he insisted on purchasing a new guitar to replace the old Silvertone that had developed a severe crack in its side. It was with Dr. Perkins’ encouragement and sponsorship that the young pre-med student gave his first formal concert before a group of over a hundred of the university’s music majors.
After completion of his studies at Southern, Cleve was off to graduate school at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. Given the number of tourist attractions and dining spots, Cleve soon found an enjoyable way of earning extra spending money performing in the colonial taverns and around the Tidewater area in small venues. And, much to his amazement, he began to develop a loyal following among local residents. It was with the encouragement of his Williamsburg fans that he cut his first recording “The Willow Tree” in 1966.
With his master’s degree in biology, Cleve moved on to medical school at the Medical College of Virginia (VCU). While he made no recordings during this period, he did write songs, develop musical associations and earn money for his medical school expenses by working of the road with other musicians during the summer months. It was in this period that he became friends with fellow songwriter Victor Liguori. Together, they wrote “War, A Children’s Game” . . . a tune Cleve would later record on his album “Reflections”.
During his residency at George Washington University Medical Center, Cleve began performing at the “Singer’s Studio” in the Washington’s fashionable Georgetown district. Teamed with fellow guitarist Billy Pierce, Cleve entertained hundreds of fans with such favorites as Sam Cook’s “You Send Me” and the Eagles’ “Desperado”.
In 1978, with his medical training complete, Cleve set up his cardiology practice in nearby Alexandria, Virginia. As time passed the young doctor’s reputation as highly skilled medical practitioner spread throughout the area. Soon it became necessary to add two physician partners to Mount Vernon Cardiology. As it had done at every point in his life, music’s undeniable attraction enticed Cleve. The result was the album “Timeless” which he co-produced with Nashville’s Moses Dillard.
By the mid 1980’s Cleve was performing at the nationally acclaimed “Birchmere” in Alexandria. As his celebrity steadily grew around the Washington area Cleve decided to become involved with two important causes: AIDs education and awareness, and the plight of Vietnam era veterans. Working with Inova Health System, he worte and co-produced the song “We’re All In This Together” with fellow musician Arthur Lisi. The song was recorded in English, Spanish, bilingual English and Spanish, as well as in Portuguese. The song was received to great acclaim. Cleve was subsequently asked to perform his song with a children’s choir before the World Health Organization at the American Red Cross headquarters in Washington. “We’re All In This Together” has continued to grow in popularity and is now used by many health organizations in AIDs awareness and education.
“Reflections On The Wall” is Cleve’s original composition written to accompany a stunning photograph shot by the very talented Marty LaVor. With introspective words that capture the sacrifice and patriotism of these fallen heroes coupled with a melancholy melody , Cleve laments not only their loss, but the loss of their progeny and talent that would otherwise have been theirs to give. The finished project was presented to Jan Scruggs (the memorial’s visionary). In 1987 Cleve deeply honored to be asked to perform his song at the Vietnam Memorial during national Memorial Day celebrations in Washington, DC.
Perhaps one of Cleve’s most memorable and moving compositions was recorded during this period. Teamed up again with Moses Dillard, Cleve wrote and co-produced a homage to the slain civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The song, simply entitled “Martin”, speaks to the great vision Dr. King shared with the nation. First preformed at Washington’s famous National Theater in honor of the King Holiday, Cleve would later use it as the centerpiece for his “March On” CD co-produced by Warner Brothers and the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. “Martin” is a fabulous production which features Cleve, Patti Austin, Will Dowenlson, Ollie Woodsen and the two hundred voice Civil Rights Museum Choir.
By the early 1990’s Mount Vernon Cardiology occupied the vast majority of Cleve’s time and energy. As a full-time physician and important member of the local medical community it had become increasingly difficult to pursue his part-time musical avocation. But a strange coincidence was about to take place that would yet again change the course of Cleve’s life.
While treating a cardiac patient at Mount Vernon Hospital, Cleve was introduced to the patient’s brother “Big John Hall”, formerly a member of the 50’s rhythm and blues group known as “The Heart Beats” (yes, it is an ironic coincidence). As the brother recovered Cleve and John discussed their mutual love of music. Fascinated by the singing doctor, John asked if he could hear a few of Cleve’s tunes. What followed was a serendipitous chain of events which ultimately led to a meeting with the president of Capitol Nashville Records. Jimmy Bowen had worked with such legendary star as Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Glen Campbell, Gary Morris and Garth Brooks. With a new album “Last Call for Love” and a professionally produced music video, Cleve was overwhelmed by the response to the album’s lead song “Love Light”. Suddenly his performance was being aired over Country Music Television in the same rotation as tunes by Alan Jackson, Vince Gill, Patty Loveless and Billy Dean. What was even more outstanding was the fact that his video won Music Row Magazine’s independent Video of the Year (1990).
With a three record deal now signed with Jimmy Bowen, Cleve was sent on a country radio tour. Crisscrossing the United States, Cleve visited all the top country stations and attended “Listening Parties” throughout the nation. As his new album “Tourist In Paradise” was released in Nashville, Cleve quickly became the darling of virtually every major television and newspaper outlet. From New York to Washington, Atlanta to Chicago, articles were written about the singing cardiologist. He was featured newspapers and periodicals from coast to coast. The New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Atlanta Constitution, Time and People Magazine all wrote fabulous and complementary articles about the doctor, who also happened to be a country music sensation. CNN, CBS This Morning (later replayed on 60 Minutes), The Today Show, and Good Morning America all aired interviews or segments about the singer who was still holding down regular office hours as a practicing cardiologist in Alexandria, Virginia.
It was clear that Cleve would have to take time off from his medical practice if he was going to fully explore the possibilities of his musical abilities. With the consent of his partners Cleve took a leave of absence as he struck out across America in his tour bus. He began with a three-day performance schedule at the Colorado State Fair, followed by a hectic schedule of personal appearances. Thousands of fans welcomed him wherever he went. But, after two years of constant travel and no breakaway hit, it was time to take stock.
In 1994 Cleve returned to his medical practice after the release of his last Capitol CD, “You’ve Got Me Now”. Still vitally interested in advancing the cause of African American country artists he has collaborated with The Country Music Foundation and the Country Music Association to increase their efforts to provide opportunities for talented young performers. He penned an editorial on the subject in Billboard Magazine and co-founded the Black Country Music Association. He has also worked closely with The Country Music Foundation and Warner Brother Records to produce a first of its kind three CD box set entitled “From Where I stand”. This CD contains recordings of many unknown African American country artist dating back to the great Black harmonica player DeFord Bailey who was a star of the Grand Ole Opry in the late thirties and early forties.
Cleve Francis is the president of Mount Vernon Cardiology Associates and has recently served as the president of the Mount Vernon Hospital’s Medial Staff. He continues to perform locally in the Washington Area at The Birchmere with his eleven-piece band, as well as at local charitable events. In his spare time he composes music, poetry and delivers motivational addresses on health issues. At some point in the future he hopes to publish a book on his life and experiences in country music. ♫