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Wed, 09.05.1928

Lena McLin, Composer and Educator born

Lena McLin

*Lena McLin was born on this date in 1928. She was a Black educator, composer, author, and pastor.

Lena Mae Johnson was born in Atlanta, Georgia. At age five, she lived with her uncle, Thomas A. Dorsey. As a child, she attended the Pilgrim Baptist Church, where she was exposed to gospel music and served as an accompanist to her uncle's choir. McLin earned a bachelor's degree in music, specializing in piano and violin, from Spelman College and a graduate degree in music from the American Conservatory of Music.  

McLin taught in Chicago at Hubbard High School, Harlan High School, and Kenwood Academy. She taught Mandy Patinkin, Deitra Farr, and Kim English at Kenwood. Her other students included R. Kelly, Tammy McCann, Chaka Khan, Da Brat, Mark Rucker, Robert Sims, and Jennifer Hudson. McLin founded the McLin Ensemble in the 1950s, during which time she 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. She and her husband Nathanael founded the McLin Opera Company in the mid-1950s, funded with their own money.

The company was named the "nation's leading small opera company" by the Baltimore Afro-American in 1965. Under her direction, the company performed on stage, radio, and television. 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. Her opera, Oh Freedom, was performed at Carnegie Hall in 1983. McLin composed cantatas, masses, and rock operas. Her work has built from European classical traditions and tradition African American music and "works large and small that, in essence, merged European and African languages," according to Reich.

She also fronted the gospel group Lena McLin & the McLin Singers. 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. She taught for 36 years, all at public schools in the Chicago area. She has also given lectures at the Peabody Institute.

McLin officially retired from high school in the mid-1990s but continued teaching voice lessons. In 2011, the Emmanuel Baptist Church paid tribute to her musical career. In 2007, she was an honoree of the Human Symphony's Foundation Living Legends Award. Lena McLin, a music teacher in the Chicago Public Schools system, died on October 3, 2023.


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