Lena J. McLin

Lena J. McLin is a composer and music educator in Chicago, IL whose vocal works span several genres through song, opera, oratorio, and chamber works.

Photo: Lena McLin, africandiasporamusicproject.org

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    Lena Johnson McLin (born September 5, 1928), native of Atlanta, Georgia, was exposed to music at an early age. Her mother served as the Music Director at the Greater Mount Calvary Baptist Church, and her father was the pastor there. During this period, young McLin worked under her mother assisting with worship services directing, composing, and playing piano. Her mother also exposed her to classical music through symphony concerts and operas. Her education furthered while living with her uncle, and “father of gospel,” Thomas A. Dorsey in Chicago. She watched him compose and she herself accompanied acclaimed singers such as Mahalia Jackson and Sallie Martin in his home. McLin received a bachelor’s degree in music from Spelman College in 1951 before relocating to Chicago, and a graduate degree from the American Conservatory of Music. She is also well known as a music educator in the Chicago Public System. She taught there for 36 years and developed a music-major curriculum. She is known as a major influence in well-known artists today in many genres such as R. Kelly, Da Brat, Chaka Khan, Jennifer Hudson, Metropolitan Opera star Mark Rucker who made a recording of her published art songs, Robert Sims, and Tammy McMann. This long list of mentees has given her the title of “the woman who launched a thousand careers.” Outside of the school system, she also founded the McLin Opera Company and McLin Singers, a gospel group she directed, produced a film The Origin of the Spiritual, and wrote a textbook entitled Pulse: A History of Music.  In 1981, she founded the Holy Vessel Christian Center and was ordained as a pastor. As a composer, her catalogue comprises over 400 compositions including art songs, choral music, opera, and instrumental works. Her style mirrors her varied education and ranges from classical to gospel, and also includes rock and popular styles. McLin also expresses social activism in several of her pieces such as her cantatas, Free At Last: A Portrait of Martin Luther King Jr., and Gwendolyn Brooks: A Musical Portrait. Rev. Dr. McLin continues to teach students privately and has received numerous awards and honorary degrees for her extended work as a composer and educator.

    Tyrese Byrd

    This profile was created in 2021 as part of The Savvy Singer, an EXCEL Lab course at the University of Michigan, School of Music, Theatre, and Dance and a collaboration with the Hampsong Foundation via the Classic Song Research Initiative.

    Kalil, Timothy M. “International Dictionary of Black Composers.” Book. Chicago ; London: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1999.

    Newland, Marti K. “McLin, Lena.” Oxford African American Studies Center. 31 May. 2013; Accessed 22 Sep. 2021.

    Related Information



    The Reaction

    (Marques L. A. Garrett, Jacqueline Hairston, Eugene Hancock, Lena J. McLin, Robert Owens, Carlos Simon, Howard Swanson and George Walker)


    Mark Rucker Sings Lena McLin Songs for Voice and Piano

    (Lena J. McLin)



    Sheet Music

    An Anthology of African and African Diaspora Songs - 60 Songs

    Composer(s): H. Leslie Adams, David N. Baker, Margaret Bonds, Charles Brown, H. T. Burleigh, Valerie Capers, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Arthur Cunningham, Harriette Davison Watkins, William Dawson, Mark Fax, Bruce Forsythe, Antônio Carlos Gomes, Adolphus Hailstork, Jacqueline Hairston, Maud Cuney Hare, Jeraldine Herbison, Jonathan Holland, Sylvia Hollifield, Langston Hughes, J. Rosamond Johnson, Thomas Kerr, Lena McLin, Undine Smith Moore, Andre Myers, Camille Nickerson, Fred Onovwerosuoke, Eurydice Osterman, Robert Owens, Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, Zenobia Powell Perry, Rosephanye Powell, Florence Price, Dave Ragland, Nadine Shanti, Carlos Simon, Hale Smith, Irene Britton Smith, Brandon Spencer, Hilbert Stewart, Howard Swanson, George Walker, Aurelia Young

    Song(s): Amazing Grace (H. Leslie Adams)
    Christmas Lullaby (H. Leslie Adams)
    Sence You Went Away (H. Leslie Adams)
    The Heart of a Woman (H. Leslie Adams)
    The Alarm Clock (David N. Baker)
    The Negro Speaks of Rivers (Margaret Bonds)
    Caring (Charles Brown)
    Desire (Charles Brown)
    Your Eyes So Deep (H. T. Burleigh)
    Your Lips Are Wine (H. T. Burleigh)
    Autumn (Valerie Capers)
    Elëanore (Samuel Coleridge-Taylor)
    The Willow Song (Samuel Coleridge-Taylor)
    Minakesh (Arthur Cunningham)
    Stars (Harriette Davison Watkins)
    Out in the Fields (William Dawson)
    The Refused (Mark Fax)
    With Rue My Heart Is Laden (Bruce Forsythe)
    Suspiro d’alma (Antônio Carlos Gomes)
    If I Can Stop One Heart from Breaking (Adolphus Hailstork)
    Longing (Adolphus Hailstork)
    Loveliest of Trees (Adolphus Hailstork)
    Dormi, Jesu (Jacqueline Hairston)
    Gardé Piti Mulet Là (Maud Cuney Hare)
    I’ll Not Forget (Jeraldine Herbison)
    Little Elegy (Jonathan Holland)
    In Time of Silver Rain (Sylvia Hollifield)
    The Founding Fathers (Langston Hughes)
    This is My Land (Langston Hughes)
    L’il Gal (J. Rosamond Johnson)
    Soliloquy (Thomas Kerr)
    Amazing Grace (Lena McLin)
    The Year’s at the Spring (Lena McLin)
    I Am in Doubt (Undine Smith Moore)
    I Want to Die While You Love Me (Undine Smith Moore)
    For a Poet (Andre Myers)
    Chere, Mo Lemmé Toi (Camille Nickerson)
    Gué, Gué, Solingaie (Camille Nickerson)
    Mshila (Fred Onovwerosuoke)
    Entreaty (I Am the Rose of Sharon) (Eurydice Osterman)
    Could I but Ride Indefinite (Robert Owens)
    Die Nacht (Robert Owens)
    From the Dark Tower (Robert Owens)
    The Lynching (Robert Owens)
    The Secret (Robert Owens)
    Madrigal (Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson)
    O Children of Men (Zenobia Powell Perry)
    I Want to Die While You Love Me (Rosephanye Powell)
    Spring (Florence Price)
    The Sum (Florence Price)
    Martin Luther King, Jr. (Dave Ragland)
    Mangez, Boulez (Eat, Drink, Be Merry) (Nadine Shanti)
    Prayer (Carlos Simon)
    Troubled Woman (Hale Smith)
    Why Fades a Dream? (Irene Britton Smith)
    Dream Variations (Brandon Spencer)
    Spring Song (Hilbert Stewart)
    One Day (Howard Swanson)
    I Went to Heaven (George Walker)
    Norris Swamp (Aurelia Young)

    Voice Type: 36 Songs are for High Voice - Medium to High Voice
    24 Songs are for Medium - Medium to Low Voice

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