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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 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

Interview Description
Birth Date

9/5/1928

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

USA

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
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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.