Lena Mae McLin (née Johnson; September 5, 1928 – October 3, 2023) was a multifaceted talent known for her contributions to music education, composition, literature, and religious service. Her impact on the world of music and education, particularly in Chicago, is profound. Let’s delve into the life and achievements of Lena Mae McLin.
Early Life and Education
Born in Atlanta, Georgia, on September 5, 1928, Lena Mae Johnson’s early exposure to gospel music began at the Pilgrim Baptist Church as a child. At just five years old, she went to live with her uncle, Thomas A. Dorsey, a renowned figure in gospel music. Lena’s journey into music was destined from a young age.
Lena Mae McLin pursued her passion for music academically. She earned a bachelor’s degree in music with specializations in piano and violin from Spelman College. Her dedication to her craft led her to achieve a graduate degree in music from the American Conservatory of Music.
Lena McLin’s teaching career was remarkable, particularly in the Chicago Public Schools system. She made a significant impact as a music teacher at various schools, including Hubbard High School, Harlan High School, and Kenwood Academy. Her list of notable students includes individuals who would go on to achieve great success in the music industry, such as R. Kelly, Chaka Khan, Da Brat, and Jennifer Hudson.
R. Kelly credited Lena McLin with convincing him to pursue a career in music over basketball. She was a mentor and inspiration throughout his career. McLin’s influence extended beyond teaching; she encouraged R. Kelly to write his first song.
Lena McLin officially retired from teaching high school in the mid-1990s but continued to impart her knowledge through voice lessons. Her teaching career spanned an impressive 36 years, all within the Chicago area public school system. She also delivered lectures at the Peabody Institute.
Music and Composition
Lena McLin’s passion for music extended to composition. She founded the McLin Ensemble in the 1950s, making their operatic debut in November 1960 at the Abraham Lincoln Center in Chicago. Her musical journey also involved founding the McLin Opera Company alongside her husband, Nathanael. This company earned recognition as the “nation’s leading small opera company.”
One of McLin’s notable compositions, “Oh Freedom,” was performed at Carnegie Hall in 1983. She was known for creating a diverse range of music, including cantatas, masses, rock operas, gospel songs, and electronic music arrangements. Her work bridged European classical traditions with African-American musical styles.
Driven by her faith, Lena McLin transitioned to religious service later in life. She founded the Holy Vessel Baptist Church in Chicago after receiving a calling from God. Dr. McLin was officially ordained as a minister, and the church became a beacon of hope for the Hyde Park community. The church initiated outreach programs to assist those in need, providing food, clothing, shelter, and counseling.
Personal Life and Honors
Lena McLin was a mother to two children, Nathanael Jr. and Beverley, with her husband Nathanael McLin. She received honorary degrees from Virginia Union University and Spelman College in recognition of her contributions. Additionally, she was honored with a lifetime achievement award from the Chicago Music Awards in 2003.
Legacy and Passing
Lena Mae McLin’s legacy lives on through her students, her music, and her impact on the community. She passed away on October 3, 2023, at the age of 95, leaving behind a rich tapestry of achievements in the realms of music, education, and faith. Her influence on generations of musicians and her dedication to her craft continue to inspire.
Lena McLin’s life is a testament to the power of music, education, and spirituality to uplift and transform lives.