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Lena McLin

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Nationality  African–American
Years active  1955–present

Name  Lena McLin
Role  author
Lena McLin wwwchicagosinfoniettaorgwpcontentuploadsLena

Full Name  Lena Mae Johnson
Born  September 5, 1928 (Age 92) (1928-09-05) Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
Occupation  Music educator, composer, author, pastor
Spouse(s)  Nathanael McLin (m. 1947–96)(his death) (2 children)
Family  Thomas A. Dorsey (uncle)
Books  Pulse: A History of Music, Songs for Voice And Piano
Education  Spelman College, American Conservatory of Music
Similar  Julia Perry , Undine Smith Moore , Robert Sims

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Lena Mae McLin (née Johnson; September 5, 1929) is an American 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.


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Early life

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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, Jennifer Hudson, 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.

Religious service

In a resolution passed by the Illinois House of Representatives in 2008, the House stated that:

Personal life

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.

Financial issues

Throughout her life, McLin has been a trailblazer and a force to be reckoned with. McLin has received numerous accolades and has helped so many, selflessly and with little to no compensation. McLin hasn’t even been properly compensated for all of the great music that she created in the past. 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. Thankfully, one of her former students, Deacon Regg Truitt, stepped up and put together a GoFund Me housing fundraiser and in six short weeks, raised 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 13th 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.


Lena McLin Wikipedia