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Reverend Dr. Lena McLin

Maker interview details

Profile image of Reverend Dr. Lena McLin
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  • January 5, 2005


  • Category: MusicMakers
  • Occupation(s): High School Music Teacher


  • Born: September 5, 1928
  • Birth Location: Atlanta, Georgia


  • Favorite Color: Blue
  • Favorite Food: Fish, Turnip Greens, Hamhock
  • Favorite Time of Year: Christmas

Favorite Quote

"Alice Had Her Wonderland. Dorothy Had Her Trip To Oz. Cinderella Had Her Ball And Jack Had A Beanstalk Tall. Midas Had His Golden Touch. Rumplestilskin's Name Was Much. Pinocchio Had A Craftsman Wise, And Puss In Boots Was No Surprise. Make Believe Is Fine You See, But Life Is More Than Dreams To Me Cause My Fairyland Is Where I Am, How I Think, And What I Do. And Miracles For Me Are Things That Happen When I Cause Them To. I Believe I Am A Dream. I Am The Theme Of Life's Full Scheme. Without Me, There Would Be No Way For Make Believe To Have It's Day. So Let Me Say To All Who Doubt That What You Want Can Come About That. Just Keep This Little Fact In Mind That All You Need In Life Is Time Cause Your Fairyland Is Where You Are, How You Think, And What You Do And Miracles Are Things Are Things That Happen When You Cause Them To."
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Musician, teacher, and composer, Reverend Lena McLin, was born September 5, 1928, in Atlanta, Georgia, to parents Benjamin J. and Bernice Dorsey Johnson. McLin's parents were close to Reverend A.D. Williams and Reverend William Holmes Borders; her childhood friends included young Martin Luther King, Jr. and his sister Christine. When she was five, McLin was sent to Chicago to live with her uncle, Thomas A. Dorsey, known as the father of gospel music; there she attended McCosh Elementary School and served as a young accompanist for her uncle’s famed Pilgrim Baptist Church choir. After moving back to Atlanta, McLin graduated from Booker T. Washington High School in 1947. At Spelman College, McLin earned her bachelor of music degree in 1951; she also studied in Chicago at the American Conservatory of Music, Roosevelt University, and Chicago State University.

McLin started her teaching career at Julius H. Hess Upper Grade Center in 1959, moving to Hubbard High School in 1960. As a founder of the McLin Ensemble and the McLin Opera Company, McLin created performance opportunities for African American musicians. McLin taught at John Marshall Harlan High School from 1963 to 1970, leaving to teach at the new Kenwood Academy. At Kenwood Academy, acting as music department chair, McLin created a pilot curriculum that included all types of music, from classical to popular, helping to launch the careers of singer and actor Mandy Patinkin; Metropolitan Opera star Mark Rucker; jazz singers Maggie Brown and Kim English; and rhythm and blues artist Yvette Marie "Chaka Khan" Stevens. In 1977, McLin published a music history for youth entitled Pulse: A History of Music.

As a founder of Trinity Congregational Church, McLin also worked as minister of music. In 1982, McLin became founding pastor of Holy Vessel Baptist Church. McLin published over 400 compositions, including tributes to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gwendolyn Brooks; her compositions ranged from solo voice pieces to full orchestrations. Sought after nationally as a speaker and workshop leader, McLin was the recipient of the Outstanding Teacher Award in 1983 and numerous other awards and honorary degrees.

McLin raised a son and a daughter.

McLin was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on January 5, 2005.

Reverend Lena McLin passed away on October 3, 2023 at the age of ninety-five.

Previews from the Digital Archive


Watch the full interview in the Digital Archive