Lena Mae Johnson
September 5, 1928
Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
|Residence||Chicago, Illinois, U.S.|
(m. 1947; died 1996)
|Family||Thomas A. Dorsey (uncle)|
Lena Mae McLin (née Johnson; September 5, 1928) is an American former music teacher, composer, author, and pastor. Aside from her career as a composer, McLin is also best known for her career as music teacher in the Chicago Public Schools system; most notably at Kenwood Academy.
McLin was born in Atlanta, Georgia. At the age of five she was sent to live with her uncle, Thomas A. Dorsey. She attended the Pilgrim Baptist Church as a child, where she was exposed to gospel music and served as an accompanist to her uncle's choir. McLin has a bachelors in music, specializing in piano and violin, from Spelman College, and a graduate degree in music from the American Conservatory of Music.
She taught in Chicago at Hubbard High School, Harlan High School, and Kenwood Academy. At Kenwood she taught people such as Mandy Patinkin, Deitra Farr, and Kim English. Her students have included R. Kelly, Tammy McCann, Chaka Khan, Da Brat, Mark Rucker and Robert Sims, and she has been called "the woman who launched a thousand careers" by art critic Howard Reich of the Chicago Tribune. R. Kelly has stated that it was McLin that convinced him to pursue a career in music over basketball, and that he considers McLin his "second mother", and has remained an influence in his career continuously since his high-school days. R. Kelly wrote his first song through her encouragement, which he wrote about the subject of poverty in Africa. She officially retired from teaching high school in the mid-1990s but continued teaching voice lessons. In all she taught for 36 years, all at Chicago area public schools. She has also given lectures at the Peabody Institute. McLin published the book Pulse: A History Of Music in 1977. She also has a library of choral works published by the Neil A. Kjos Music Company.
McLin founded the McLin Ensemble in the 1950s, during which time McLin was serving as the public relations director of the Park District Opera Guild. She and the ensemble made their operatic debut in November 1960 at the Abraham Lincoln Center in Chicago, with a performance of The Cloak. McLin had also founded the McLin Opera Company in the mid-1950s with her husband Nathanael, which they funded with their own money. The company was named the "nation's leading small opera company" by the Washington Afro-American in 1965. Under her direction the company performed on state, as well as on radio and television networks.
McLin's own opera Oh Freedom was played at Carnegie Hall in 1983. She has composed a wide range of music, including cantatas, masses, and rock operas. Her work has built from both European Classical traditions and tradition African-American music, and "works large and small that, in essence, merged European and African-American languages" according to Reich. She also fronts the gospel group Lena McLin & the McLin Singers. In 2011 a tribute to her musical career was held at the Emmanuel Baptist Church. She was an honorary of the Human Symphony's Foundation living legends award in 2007. In all she has composed more than 400 cantatas, masses, solo and choral arrangements of spirituals, anthems, art songs, Gospel songs, rock operas, soul and pop songs, works for piano and orchestra, and electronic music arrangements, including Free At Last: A Portrait Of Martin Luther King Jr. and Gwendolyn Brooks: A Musical Portrait.
In a resolution passed by the Illinois House of Representatives in 2008, the House stated that:
McLin had two children, Nathanael Jr. and Beverley, with her husband Nathanael McLin. In 2008 the Illinois House of Representatives passed a resolution "that we congratulate Reverend Doctor Lena J. McLin on this momentous occasion and wish her continued health, happiness, and music in her life" upon the occasion of her 80th birthday. She has been awarded honorary degrees by the Virginia Union University and Spelman College. She was also a 2003 recipient of the lifetime achievement award from the Chicago Music Awards.
McLin is currently living on a teacher's pension and was in danger of losing her home; the apartment building which she has called home for decades is being converted into condominiums. She was notified by the board that she would have to pay over $17,000 to modernize and convert her unit and then pay another $130,000 to actually purchase the condo. To continue living there, she needed a total of $147,000. One of her former students, Deacon Regg Truitt, set up a GoFund Me housing fundraiser raising more than $16k to convert her apartment to a condominium. She was also granted a pro bono attorney to help with her real estate issues. There are also two benefit concerts planned to honor her: For "A Performers Concert: A Benefit for Lena McLin" on October 13 at The Promontory Chicago, McLin's invaluable contribution to music will be on display as her students perform virtually every genre of music, featuring current students and former students. The second benefit concert, still being scheduled, will feature some of her more world-famous students. R. Kelly has already given his commitment and is adamant about helping. Her plight has been featured on news stations and newspapers. Lastly, a foundation is being formed in her name, which would preserve her legacy and provide support to musicians, composers and music educators. Rev. Dr. Lena McLin is a proud woman and thanks everyone for their help and many prayers. From this point on, her daughter Beverly Jones will take the reins, continuing the effort to save her mother's home.
- Encyclopedia of African American Music - Lena McLin
- Women & Music: A History
- "Rev. Lena McLin". The HistoryMakers. Retrieved 11 April 2013.
- American Opera - Lena McLin
- "Len McLin". PBS. Retrieved 11 April 2013.
- "LRB095 22469 KXB 52837 r: HOUSE RESOLUTION". Illinois House of Representatives. Retrieved May 2, 2013.
- Karen Hawkins (January 8, 2006). "Gutted church was noted for music Gospel stars lifted up voices at Chicago site". Boston Globe. Retrieved May 2, 2013.
- "Lena McLin: Composer/Educator". Retrieved May 2, 2013.
- Emmett George Price. Encyclopedia of African American Music, Volume 3. ABC-CLIO. p. 232.
- "Man in the Mirror". Vibe Magazine. November 2000. p. 112. Retrieved May 14, 2013.
- Howard Reich (March 24, 2011). "A celebration of Lena McLin's music". The Chicago Tribune. Retrieved May 2, 2013.
- Kevin Chappell (July 1996). "R. Kelly: His Exciting Mansion and His Controversial Mix of Shock and Salvation". Ebony Magazine. p. 134. Retrieved May 2, 2013.
- "A Soul Divided". Vibe Magazine. March 1996. p. 64. Retrieved May 2, 2013.
- Adam H. Jenkins (August 19, 1972). "Workshop on black music a success at Peabody". Baltimore Afro-American. Retrieved May 2, 2013.
- Lena McLin (1977). Pulse: A History Of Music. Kjos West.
- "Choral Publications by Lena Mclin (43)". Retrieved May 14, 2013.
- "McLin Ensemble to Present Two Opera's". The Bulletin (Chicago newspaper). Retrieved May 2, 2013.
- Dorothy Witte Austin (March 15, 1966). "Half Paid, Half Free Opera Company". The Milwaukee Journal. Retrieved May 2, 2013.
- "McLin Opera plans Fashion Fair". Washington Afro-American. September 14, 1965. Retrieved May 2, 2013.
- Bernard Holland (February 15, 1983). "Opera Ebony: Black History". New York Times. Retrieved May 2, 2013.
- "Lena McLin". Human Symphony Foundation. Retrieved 11 April 2013.
- Dave Hoekstra (November 29, 1998). "The Righteous Brother: R. Kelly's ambitious album of genre- spanning songs finds him updating the spiritually grounded R&B of such greats as Al Green and Donny Hathaway". Los Angeles Times.
- "2007 Honorees". Retrieved May 2, 2013.
- Oxford African American Studies Center (2006). "McLin, Lena" (PDF). Oxford University Press. Retrieved May 14, 2013.
- "Dr. Lena McLin nominated for Life Achievement Award". Chicago Defender. January 11, 2003. Archived from the original on June 10, 2014. Retrieved May 14, 2013.
- "Profile: Dr Lena McLin". Soultrain.com. September 30, 2015. Retrieved September 30, 2015.