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Dr. Don Lee White Remembered

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By Cheryl Brown –

Anyone who knew Don Lee White can tell you he was a perfectionist. His genre was Christian music and he was well known in Los Angeles, the Fifth District African Methodist Episcopal Church, and the worldwide connectional church where for decades he directed choirs.

“He was a master musician, strict but pleasant and he was the founding director of the Southern California Choir. I sang with him for about 15 years,” said Kay Kelly, former member of Ward AME now at St. Paul, San Bernardino.

Born in Los Angeles, CA he attended schools there, Los Angeles City College, California State University, Los Angeles, the University of Southern California and completed additional graduate work at Stanford University. He was also awarded a doctorate from the University of Monrovia, Ghana, West Africa. Music education was all that he knew, from serving as a director to being a teacher and everything in-between he has been called a musical genius.

Earlier in his career he left Los Angeles to serve as organist/ professor of music for Prairie View A & M University, Texas.

Upon his return he served for nearly 40 years at Grant AME Church. For 27 years he was also a professor of music at California State University, Los Angeles teaching organ, piano and choral music, conducting and music appreciation.

While at Grant the choir under his leadership gained national recognition for their versatility and professional music presentations throughout the nation. They also recorded several albums. He also wrote the AME Founder’s Hymn sung on special occasions. His life was far reaching and he compiled and edited compositions by Black Americans for the Afro-American Hymnal. For 15 years he served as director of music for the Southern California, Conference Fifth Episcopal District and eight years as the associate director for the entire worldwide AME church.

Since 1988 when his leave request was granted from Grant, he organized the Don. L. White Community Chorale. The Chorale is dedicated to singing the extended compositions of African American composers.

White was also in demand to lecture and to hold demonstrations and workshops. He was the associate music director and organist for the Minister’s Conference annually held at Hampton University in Virginia.

Another accomplishment of which he was proud was serving as the guest conductor, featured soloist and organist for the Southwest and Southeast Symphony Orchestras of which he was a member.

He belonged to various organizations and will be missed by the lives he touched.

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