Leonard MacClain

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Leonard MacClain (September 8, 1899, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania[1] – September 1967, Devault, Pennsylvania[2]) was an American keyboardist and composer who was prominent as an organist in the Philadelphia area. He gained international exposure through his recordings for Epic Records.[3][4]


MacClain's career as a theatre organist for silent movies started at the Jefferson Theatre, when the regular organist there could not appear on account of inclement weather.[1] In 1919 he began playing at the Fifty-Sixth Street Theater.[5] He became the premiere theatre organist[5] in the Philadelphia area for decades, earning the nickname “Melody Mac”.[6][7][8]

MacClain was also popular on radio, where he had his own show.[9] In 1935 he debuted an instrument called the “Photona” on the CBS Radio network. The instrument was of two manuals, each manual including six octaves, and had foot controls for volume and tremolo.[10]

By 1950 he was recording for Musicart Records.[11] The late 1950s and early 1960s were the peak of MacClain’s exposure, as he signed a recording contract with Epic Records,[12] where he recorded the Wurlitzer organ in the Tower Theatre located in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania.[3][13] During this time, he made numerous concert appearances,[14] often in conjunction with the American Association of Theater Organ Enthusiasts. Highlights included being named convention organist for the Forty-Seventh Annual Rotary Convention in 1956,[15] and as guest soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy playing “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” [16] During this time he lived in Ocean City, New Jersey, with his wife, Dorothy.[17] In 1963, McClain traveled to Baltimore, Buffalo, Rochester and Philadelphia to record organs in four theatres scheduled for demolition and to California to record at Lorin Whitney Studios in Glendale. These sessions were released on the Ralbar Records label. By 1966 health issues forced him to cancel appearances.[18] He died in 1967.

Playing style and legacy[edit]

His playing was described as “forthright” and “sensible”,[3] yet he was also noted for his improvisational skills.[15] He was said to be able to play any song he had heard from memory, making up the chords and accompaniment as he went along. On his radio show, he offered a prize to any listener who could stump him with a song, but was rarely bested.[19] He was reviewed by Billboard as “outstanding.” [13]

MacClain was sought after as a teacher of his instrument. Students included Dennis James,[1] who at the age of 16 replaced MacClain in concert when the organist suffered a heart attack,[20] Dick Smith, Shirley Hannum Keither, and Barbara Fesmire.[21]

Partial list of compositions[edit]

“Days Without You are Endless”[22]

Selected discography[edit]


  • Choice Christmas Carols (Valdoray VLD-101-L) 10"Lp (1952)
  • Theater Organ in Hi-Fi (Epic LN-3273)(1956)[23]
  • Joy to the World (Epic LN-3283) (1956)[13]
  • Operetta for the Theatre Organ (Epic LN-3372) (1957)[4]
  • More Theater Organ in Hi-Fi (Epic LN-3655) (1960)[24]
  • Theatre Organ After Dark (Epic LN-3697)(1960) (Re-released as Columbia Special Products EPSP-569)
  • Leonard MacClain's Golden Years of Theatre Organ (1963) Ralbar Records SDLP6300) 2 disc set
  • Leonard MacClain Plays For Theatre Organ Lovers (Ralbar Records SOLP 6301)
  • Leonard MacClain Plays Baltimore's Fabulous Stanton Theatre Organ (Ralbar Records SOLP 6302)
  • 25th Anniversary Release in Memory of Leonard MacClain—recorded 1963 (1992) Vantage Records VCD-6303


  1. ^ a b c Landon, John W. (1983). Behold the Mighty Wurlitzer: The history of the theatre pipe organ. Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-23827-8.
  2. ^ "Leonard MacClain". tributes.com. Retrieved 22 February 2011.
  3. ^ a b c Masters, John. "Christmas Record Avalanche", The Age (Melbourne, Australia), December 18, 1957, p. 15.
  4. ^ a b Fracht, J. Albert. "Records in Review", The News and Courier (Charleston, SC), October 20, 1957, p. 15-C.
  5. ^ a b Glazer, Irvin R. (1986). Philadelphia theatres, A-Z: A comprehensive, descriptive record of 813 theatres constructed since 1724. Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-24054-X.
  6. ^ Hall, Ben M. (August 24, 1962). A Brand-new Wheeze: Pipe Organ Addicts. Life. p. 15.
  7. ^ Kinerk, Michael D.; Wilhelm, Dennis W. (2005). ATOS 50th anniversary: American Theatre Organ Society reaches solid gold milestone. American Theatre Organ Society. p. 69.
  8. ^ "History". Historic Lansdowne Theater Corporation. 2009. Retrieved 22 February 2011.
  9. ^ Mangan, Timothy (16 April 2009). "The Sound of Silents: 'Phantom' organist in O.C." The Orange County Register. Retrieved 22 February 2011.
  10. ^ O’Dial, Michael (April 25, 1935). Radio Roundup: New Instrument for Radio Work. Regina Leader-Post. p. 18.
  11. ^ Billboard, January 21, 1950, p. 43.
  12. ^ Nielsen Business Media, Inc. (10 November 1956). Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. pp. 138–. ISSN 0006-2510. Retrieved 23 February 2011.
  13. ^ a b c Billboard, December 1, 1956 p. 22.
  14. ^ Reading (Pennsylvania) Eagle, September 17, 1961, p. 45.
  15. ^ a b 1956 Proceedings: Forty-Seventh Annual Rotary Convention. Rotary International. p. 29.
  16. ^ Organ Handbook. Organ Historical Society. 1995. ISBN 0-913499-62-5.
  17. ^ Reading Eagle, "Organists Guests at Dix Residence", July 4, 1958, p. 15.
  18. ^ Theatre Organ: Journal of the American Association of Theatre Organ Enthusiasts, Volume 8, Issue 2. American Association of Theatre Organ Enthusiasts. 1964.
  19. ^ "Pipe Organ Music – Leonard MacClain: Theatre Organ in Hi-Fi". theatreorgan.com. Retrieved 22 February 2011.
  20. ^ Espe, Erik (8 March 1996). "Classical Glass". Palo Alto Online. Retrieved 22 February 2011.
  21. ^ Atlantic City Convention Hall Organ Society, Inc., “Beauty and the Beast” Grand Ophicleide, Issue 28, Summer 2005, p. 7.
  22. ^ Catalog of Copyright Entries: Musical compositions, Part 3. Library of Congress Copyright Office. 1934. p. 239.
  23. ^ Schupp, Enos (1957). Operetta for Theatre Organ (LP). Leonard MacClain. Epic Records. LN-3372.
  24. ^ High Fidelity, Volume 10, p. 92.