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Verna Holley

Retired choral music teacher Verna Dorsey Holley was born on April 29, 1936 in Detroit, Michigan to Pearl Richardson Dorsey and Henry Dorsey. Holley attended Dwyer Elementary School in 1948 before graduating from Northern High School in 1952. Holley completed her B.A. degree in music education at Wayne State University in 1956 and went on to earn her M.A. degree in music at Michigan State University.

Holley was hired as the fine arts director at J.W. Sexton High School in Lansing, Michigan and worked in the Lansing Public School System until she retired. She then continued to give piano lessons in her home. Holley became the pianist and music director of the Earl Nelson Singers. Founded in 1963, by Earl Nelson, The Earl Nelson Singers Company is an integrated ensemble of singers from the Lansing, Michigan area. As the company’s musical director, Holley selects the sacred songs of slaves for them to perform. The group’s repertoire included songs reflective of the early “gospel” style. Holley’s work has also been associated with the Okemos String Program.

Holley is a member of the Religious Conference Planning Association, United Conference for Women and the Capital Area Music Teachers Association. She lives in Lansing, Michigan with her husband, Melvin Holley. They have three adult children: Mark, Timothy and Millicent.

Holley was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on February 29, 2008.

Accession Number

A2008.039

Sex

Female

Interview Date

2/29/2008

Last Name

Holley

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Organizations
Schools

Northern High School

Dwyer Elementary School

Trowbridge Elementary School

Wayne State University

First Name

Verna

Birth City, State, Country

Detroit

HM ID

HOL10

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Michigan

Favorite Vacation Destination

Midwest

Favorite Quote

Trust In The Lord With All Your Heart And Lean Not On Your Own Understanding; In All Your Ways Submit To Him, And He Will Make Your Paths Straight.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Michigan

Birth Date

4/29/1936

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Lansing

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Fried Chicken

Short Description

High school music teacher and choral director Verna Holley (1936 - ) served as the fine arts director at J.W. Sexton High School in Lansing, Michigan and worked in the Lansing Public School System until she retired. She was also the pianist and music director of the Earl Nelson Singers.

Employment

C.W. Otto Junior High School

J.W. Sexton High School

Dwyer Elementary School

Sampson Elementary School

Balch School

A.L. Holmes Elementary School

Cedar Street School

Oak Park School

Favorite Color

Purple

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Verna Holley's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Verna Holley lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Verna Holley describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Verna Holley describes her mother's personality

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Verna Holley talks about her father's activities as a young man

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Verna Holley describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Verna Holley recalls how her parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Verna Holley talks about her family's migration to Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Verna Holley describes her parents' personalities and her likeness to them

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Verna Holley lists her siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Verna Holley describes her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Verna Holley remembers the neighborhoods of her youth

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Verna Holley describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Verna Holley remembers her early education at Trowbridge School

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Verna Holley describes Paradise Valley in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Verna Holley talks about Black Bottom in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Verna Holley remembers the riots of 1943

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Verna Holley describes herself as an elementary school student

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Verna Holley talks about her childhood activities

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Verna Holley recalls attending Bethany Tabernacle church in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Verna Holley remembers her neighbors in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Verna Holley recalls attending Northern High School

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Verna Holley remembers notable African American musicians from her youth

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Verna Holley recalls African American publications from her childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 13 - Verna Holley recalls attending concerts as a child

Tape: 2 Story: 14 - Verna Holley describes her decision to attend Wayne University in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Verna Holley lists her music teachers

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Verna Holley describes her musical influences

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Verna Holley recalls teaching music at Dwyer Elementary School in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Verna Holley reflects upon her strict religious upbringing

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Verna Holley remembers the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Verna Holley recalls teaching at William T. Sampson Elementary School in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Verna Holley describes how she met and married her husband

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Verna Holley recalls teaching at A.L. Holmes Elementary School in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Verna Holley remembers the 1967 Detroit Riots

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Verna Holley recalls Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Verna Holley talks about relocating to Lansing, Michigan

Tape: 3 Story: 12 - Verna Holley recalls her early teaching assignments in Lansing, Michigan

Tape: 3 Story: 13 - Verna Holley talks about serving as director of fine arts at J.W. Sexton High School

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Verna Holley describes her involvement in the Earl Nelson Singers

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Verna Holley recalls guest vocalists for the Earl Nelson Singers

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Verna Holley reflects upon her life

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Verna Holley talks about her taste in music

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Verna Holley describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Verna Holley reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Verna Holley describes her family

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Verna Holley talks about her religious faith

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Verna Holley describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Verna Holley narrates her photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$4

DAStory

7$1

DATitle
Verna Holley talks about her childhood activities
Verna Holley describes her involvement in the Earl Nelson Singers
Transcript
What were you like when you were a little girl? What were you interested in?$$Well my folks [Pearl Richardson Dorsey and Henry Dorsey] made me take piano. We had this large upright piano that they had purchased for my older brothers and sisters to learn and they refused, so they were determined that my sister [Grace Dorsey] and I would take piano and learn to play the piano so, that was their goal for us.$$Okay.$$And we, that was one of the, one of the things that we had to do. We had to get good grades at school, we had to take piano lessons, we had to go to church [Bethany Tabernacle, Detroit, Michigan], those were the three things that were primary in our lives.$$Um-hm. Now--$$We weren't allowed to, you know, visit with many neighbors, we weren't allowed to, we couldn't even go to the show, (laughter) it was just that, that tight. The only time when we got a chance to go to the show is when we went to visit my aunt who lived in Rochester, Pennsylvania. Well she didn't mind us going to the show, so sometimes we would go and we would stay for, to see the picture two or three times, 'cause we knew we wouldn't get back (laughter), until the next year when we went to visit her in the summertime. But my, my parents were very, very strict. Very, very strict.$You're involved in other activities here in Lansing [Michigan] other--$$Yes (simultaneous).$$--(simultaneous) than the school?$$Um-hm.$$And so, tell us about some, some of those?$$Okay. When we first moved here we--about two or three years after we had moved here we, we became involved with a group called the Earl Nelson Singers. Earl Nelson had started a choral group and the purpose of this choral group was to keep the heritage of the spirituals alive. And so most of the people in the group at the time when he started it were African Americans, he was also a teacher, a vocal music teacher at Otto Middle School, or Otto Junior High [C.W. Otto Junior High School, Lansing, Michigan] as it was at that time. And so he started this group in 1963, their first concert was given two days after the assassination of John F. Kennedy [President John Fitzgerald Kennedy]. They started to cancel the concert, but decided they should do it in, in his honor, in his memory and so, the group was started then and it is still going on now, he later became a state representative and then later a state senator, and then moved to the department of minority education and retired from that job and moved to Punta Gorda, Florida. In 1978, when he was very heavily involved in the political scene, the group wanted to continue singing after he had decided not, that he didn't have time to continue directing the group, so the singers said, well why, asked me, "Why don't you take the group." And so, somewhat reluctantly I did and we are still singing and we do a concert every year plus we sing at various churches and we sing for banquets and several venues like that. There are about--$$Okay so, when you took over in 1968?$$Seventy-eight [1978].$$Seventy-eight [1978]?$$Um-hm.$$Okay.$$Yeah.$$All right.$$And so, we, the group is now of about, has about forty-two, forty, forty-one, forty-two people in it and we still sing the spirituals, we sing the classical arrangements of the spirituals. The (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) So this is similar to the Fisk Jubilee Singers?$$Yes. Yes, yes. Now--$$Or John Ward Chorale [ph.]?$$Um-hm. Um-hm.$$Yeah. All right.$$The Brazeal Dennard singers [Brazeal Dennard Chorale] in Detroit [Michigan], we do the classical arrangements like the one, the, the arrangements by William Levi Dawson, Harry Burleigh, Hall Johnson, Moses Hogan, most recently Robert Morris [sic. HistoryMaker Robert A. Harris]. Those men who have classical music training and are using, have used their skills to arrange these spirituals so that a choir such as the Earl Nelson Singers can, can continue to sing them and keep them in the ears of as many, as will listen to them.$$Okay.$$Um-hm.$$Now, so though the group is or--organized in '63 [1963]?$$Um-hm.$$And it continues to this day?$$Yes. And there are two people who are still in the group who were in the charter group (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Okay.$$The, the original group.$$Okay.$$Um-hm, they are--one is in the, one is in his eighties and the other is late seventies.

Reverend Dr. Lena McLin

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 Robert “R” Kelly. 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 has published over 400 compositions, including tributes to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gwendolyn Brooks; her compositions range from solo voice pieces to full orchestrations. Sought after nationally as a speaker and workshop leader, McLin is the recipient of the Outstanding Teacher Award in 1983 and numerous other awards and honorary degrees. McLin has raised a son and a daughter, and remains a resident of Chicago’s South Shore community.

Accession Number

A2005.001

Sex

Female

Interview Date

1/5/2005

Last Name

McLin

Schools

American Conservatory of Music

Booker T. Washington High School

Spelman College

McCosh Elementary School

First Name

Lena

Birth City, State, Country

Atlanta

HM ID

MCL01

Favorite Season

Christmas

State

Georgia

Favorite Vacation Destination

None

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.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

9/5/1928

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Fish, Turnip Greens, Hamhock

Short Description

High school music teacher and pastor Reverend Dr. Lena McLin (1928 - ) served as the music department chair at the Kenwood Academy in Chicago. At Kenwood Academy, McLin's revolutionary curriculum helped 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 Robert “R” Kelly. In addition to her teaching activities, McLin founded the Trinity Congregational Church in Chicago, where she also served as the minister of music.

Employment

John Marshall Harlan High School

Kenwood Academy

Hess Upper Grade Center

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
0,0:63948,88:81850,193$0,0:2494,81:3182,94:29760,394:56824,504:68320,611:68894,619:82795,824:83103,829:83873,842:88416,1045:130280,1429:143250,1628
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Reverend Dr. Lena McLin's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Reverend Dr. Lena McLin lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Reverend Dr. Lena McLin describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Reverend Dr. Lena McLin talks about her maternal uncle, Thomas A. Dorsey

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Reverend Dr. Lena McLin talks about the origins of gospel music

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Reverend Dr. Lena McLin talks about the Dorsey family's involvement with gospel music

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Reverend Dr. Lena McLin describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Reverend Dr. Lena McLin talks about growing up in the Baptist community in Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Reverend Dr. Lena McLin talks about her childhood community in Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Reverend Dr. Lena McLin recalls what Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was like in his youth

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Reverend Dr. Lena McLin describes her earliest childhood memory in Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Reverend Dr. Lena McLin describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Reverend Dr. Lena McLin recalls living with her uncle, Thomas A. Dorsey, in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Reverend Dr. Lena McLin talks about her musical training and schooling

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Reverend Dr. Lena McLin describes her experiences at Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Reverend Dr. Lena McLin describes her interests and activities at Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Reverend Dr. Lena McLin describes her experiences at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Reverend Dr. Lena McLin talks about her musical instructors and studies at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Reverend Dr. Lena McLin describes her experiences at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Reverend Dr. Lena McLin explains why she loves the opera 'Cavalleria rusticana'

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Reverend Dr. Lena McLin talks about her experiences with opera music

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Reverend Dr. Lena McLin talks about teaching at Julius H. Hess Upper Grade Center and John Marshall Harlan High School in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Reverend Dr. Lena McLin talks about teaching at Kenwood Academy in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Reverend Dr. Lena McLin talks about well-known performers who were her former students at Kenwood Academy in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Reverend Dr. Lena McLin describes the curriculum she used while teaching music at Kenwood Academy in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Reverend Dr. Lena McLin describes how she began her career as a composer

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Reverend Dr. Lena McLin talks about her role as founder and pastor of Holy Vessel Baptist Church in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Reverend Dr. Lena McLin talks about her favorite kinds of music

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Reverend Dr. Lena McLin talks about the assassination and legacy of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Reverend Dr. Lena McLin shares her theological philosophy

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Reverend Dr. Lena McLin describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Reverend Dr. Lena McLin talks about the celebrities she invited to Kenwood Academy in Chicago, Illinois to address students

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Reverend Dr. Lena McLin talks about how Chicago, Illinois can be a training ground for musicians

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Reverend Dr. Lena McLin reflects upon her life

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Reverend Dr. Lena McLin reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Reverend Dr. Lena McLin describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Reverend Dr. Lena McLin narrates her photographs, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Reverend Dr. Lena McLin narrates her photographs, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Reverend Dr. Lena McLin performs one of her musical compositions

DASession

1$1

DATape

5$3

DAStory

8$3

DATitle
Reverend Dr. Lena McLin performs one of her musical compositions
Reverend Dr. Lena McLin talks about her musical instructors and studies at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia
Transcript
(Reverend Dr. Lena McLin plays the piano)$$That's 'Fun in C minor.'$$What's the name of that one again?$$'Fun in C minor' (laughter). Just something for my little kids to get C minor together.$Are there any particular instructors at Spelman [College, Atlanta, Georgia] that stand out or students when you were--$$Instructors, yeah I loved Willis Laurence James, Kemper Harreld, let me see. Can't think of her name now, Jesus. I had a German teacher who had just come--just gotten here from Germany, just escaped the Nazis. What was her--Ms. Boynton, B-O-Y-N-T-O-N. And also what was that other teacher's name. Can't think of her name. These were outstanding teachers. And this one, I can't think of her name. I wished I could. Can't think of her name now to save my neck.$$Okay, and so you were writing music while you were a student, right?$$Not really. I just wrote--they had a contest. I was supposed to be a piano major and a voice major, but they threw me out because I couldn't play.$$When, when did your hand develop this tumor?$$My freshman year.$$Okay, that's just at the very beginning.$$Nineteen forty-seven [1947]. And so they put me out of there and I tried to play the violin 'cause I could hold the violin like that with this hand. It was disgusting. 'Cause it wasn't my instrument, it would take me a little while to get into it and I really didn't wanna do it, 'cause I loved the piano so. And so then Ms. Boynton worked with me, worked with me. She had me squeezing balls and everything and I finally got to playing. But I was playing the church with two fingers. I would play with two fingers on the left hand.$$So did it ever get to the point where it works pretty good? I mean it works--does it work as well as it did (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) I play anything I want to play.