Lindell DeJarnett, the beloved longtime music director at Marietta’s First United Methodist Church, died this week at 93.
DeJarnett, or “Mr. DJ,” as churchgoers knew him, originally hailed from Metropolis, Illinois. Following an early passion for music and song, DeJarnett made his way to Marietta in 1964 and was instrumental in building up Marietta FUMC’s renowned musical programs. Friends, family, and colleagues remembered him as a man of humility and faith, who shepherded hundreds of congregants through church life.
“He was the real thing,” said Charles Sineath, Marietta FUMC’s pastor of 22 years, many of those working with DeJarnett. “He was as Christian as Christians ought to be.”
DeJarnett, who lived in Marietta, was born the sixth of seven children in 1928, and was the last surviving member of that generation of the family.
“I think that the family that he was raised in loved music,” said Stan DeJarnett, Lindell DeJarnett’s oldest son. “Of the seven, he’s the only one that went into (music) full-time. But all of them loved music, enjoyed music, they sang in church choirs – it’s just part of their life.”
At Southern Illinois University, DeJarnett earned a degree in mathematics, before pursuing graduate studies in sacred music at Bob Jones University in South Carolina. He then found work at the first of the only two churches he would ever work at, Pattillo Methodist in Avondale Estates.
In 1964, DeJarnett was brought to Marietta FUMC by Charles Cochran, who’d first hired him at Pattillo eleven years before. DeJarnett oversaw all of the church’s musical programs, but received acclaim for his work with the church’s youth choirs.
“His biggest legacy, other than his family, is the Chapel Choir, which was the youth choir that he took on choir tours every year to all different states, all across the country,” said Arie Motschman, who was organist and associate director of music from 1989 through DeJarnett’s retirement in 1993.
Motschman recalled that the late maestro was firm, but always respectful with his students, interviewing each youth choir participant to make sure they understood his expectations.
“He always said, remember who you are and who you represent,” added Stan DeJarnett.
Cindy Orso knew Lindell DeJarnett for some 50 years, learning to read music and play hand bells from him and embarking on some of those famous national tours.
“That was the way all those kids got to go places, because you didn’t have all the activities that you had now,” Orso said. “He guided so many of us on our walk with faith … and he left one incredible legacy.”
A moment Orso remembered as particularly poignant was playing alongside Lindell DeJarnett in the bell choir – DeJarnett remained active in the vocal and bell choirs up to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic — as her son sang.
“I’m playing bells with him, and my son is singing in the choir. So it’s — you had this full circle moment,” Orso said. “And it wasn’t just my family, it was other families that experienced that. I mean, he saw all of us kids grow up, have our own families, and have our own kids … it’s just truly a blessing.”
Even as his career progressed, those who knew DeJarnett said he kept a boundlessly youthful presence.
“He acted the same at age 93 as when I met him when he was in his 40s,” Orso said.
Added Motschman, “He was committed to doing quality music. He did music across the spectrum. He embraced classical music, highbrow music, he embraced spirituals, he did contemporary church music … he was open to everything.”
Others also said while DeJarnett had an abiding passion for sacred music, he recognized it as a vehicle for community, worship, and faith.
“He saw the music as a part of the whole,” said Sineath. “He understood the role of music as a part of the Christian faith, and he understood the role of music as a ministry.”
“I think music, for him, it wasn’t about the performance as much as it was about the relationships that he built, the people that he worked with,” Stan DeJarnett said.
DeJarnett is survived by his wife of 70 years, Ann, four sons, 12 grandchildren, and 12 great-grandchildren, with a 13th on the way. A memorial service will be held Sunday, Sept. 19 at 3 p.m. at Marietta’s First United Methodist Church, followed by a reception in the Family Life Center. The burial will be private.