“He who sings prays twice,” so said St. Augustine of Hippo, the fifth century bishop of North Africa. Many theologians throughout the years have recognized the powerful emotional effect that music has on the heart and mind. Father Ron Clingenpeel, an Episcopal priest, is also a believer. Music is always an integral part of any worship services he leads.
“There’s a spiritual dimension to all kinds of music,” he says. “It’s how we connect to God.”
Clingenpeel spent many years as the priest at the Chapel of the Holy Spirit on Broadway right across the street from Tulane University. The church serves as the campus ministry for Tulane and Loyola universities. He also served as the dean of Christ Church Cathedral in the heart of downtown St. Louis, Missouri.
Recently retired after 39 years of service, Clingenpeel now consults inside and outside the church on such things as organizational management, leadership coaching and team management for non-profit organizations and churches. He also serves as supply clergy, substituting at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Metairie and St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Bayou Du Large.
Throughout his clerical career, Clingenpeel’s passion for playing secular music never waned. In St. Louis, which he often still visits, he plays in the band, The House of Bishops. In New Orleans he plays in the ’50s to ’80s-cover band, The Prescriptions. The band members are mostly physicians and the band’s motto is, “Your Rx for good time Rock ‘n’ Blues.” Besides composing liturgical music, he’s also written many blues and Zydeco tunes.
Clingenpeel’s newest gig, Father Ron and Friends, started as a one-time tribute to Pete Seeger, the legendary folk singer who died in 2014. Clingenpeel put together a playlist, recruited some friends and then performed to a large crowd gathered at Trinity Episcopal Church.
“People really responded to it,” he says. “They had a real connection to his music; it just hit a chord with them.”
That idea evolved into more concerts featuring Seeger’s music and Clingenpeel has added other traditional American folk music and even a few original tunes. The band plays the Great American Folk Song Sing-along at least once a month around the Gulf South.
For the past five years, Clingenpeel’s been fulfilling another musical-based dream; he’s a substitute host on WWOZ radio where he DJs everything from traditional jazz to acoustic blues.
“Father Ron is a force of nature,” says Beth Arroyo, WWOZ’s general manager. “He is one of our star volunteers. He’s a warm and caring person and has a passion for WWOZ and our mission of spreading New Orleans music around the world. You can hear him on the air and see him helping at our front desk. He’s even an incredible baker who never comes to the station empty handed. When I see Father Ron, I know it’s going to be a great day.”
Clingenpeel loves everything about the music business except the business. He admits that booking the events, managing the social media, negotiating the fees, keeping up with the bookkeeping and all that promotion is the toughest part of the gig.
“I love playing music but I can tell you I’m not makin’ a living from it. But I love playing music for folks. I just do.”
Father Ron & Friends