Stephen Crawford turned 9 the same day his great aunt, Dorothy Hall McFarland, took him to the only show the Beatles ever played in Minnesota — a 1965 gig at the old Met Stadium in Bloomington.
McFarland loved music and children, and took it upon herself to introduce Crawford to popular music and music theory, while also teaching him to play the piano.
“It was just a bunch of noise,” Crawford said with a laugh as he recalled how fans’ screams drowned out the Beatles. “That drove me further into the music business, because I thought, ‘What a great way to meet girls.’ I realized at that moment in time that was what I wanted to do with my life.”
Crawford would later go on to work for Prince for several years, and now runs his own music entertainment company. He credits his career to his great aunt.
McFarland died in her sleep on June 17 from natural causes at the age of 109. She was born on April 11, 1908, in a modest house in the 900 block of Iglehart Avenue in St. Paul that was later added to the National Register of Historic Places due to her father’s civic leadership.
McFarland, who came from one of St. Paul’s most prominent African-American families, was born in the house, and lived there until she relocated at the age of 95 to an assisted-living facility, Crawford said.
She spent her long life volunteering for several nonprofits serving the African-American community, including the Martin Luther King Center, St. Paul Urban League, Hallie Q. Brown Community Center and the St. Paul NAACP.
It was a legacy she inherited from her father, Stephen Edward Hall, who moved from Springfield, Ill., to St. Paul in 1900, started a barber shop and is credited with helping to found the St. Paul Urban League.
Hall was a “central figure in the African-American community” and served on several political committees, according to the Minnesota Historical Society. He and his wife, Harriet Hall, raised two daughters — McFarland and her younger sister, Ermine Hall Allen.
The girls inherited their musical talent from their mother, a jazz musician who taught piano and voice lessons at the University of Minnesota. Crawford said that Allen, his grandmother, was the first African-American to sing with the St. Paul Opera Company.
“[McFarland] was very proud of her heritage and her background,” Crawford said. “She just felt that she was raised ... to do good things for her community and people in need.”
McFarland performed administrative duties at different organizations as a volunteer, and served lunches to underprivileged children at the Hallie Q. Brown Community Center, he said. She only stopped once she hit her mid-90s and could no longer live on her own.
McFarland dedicated herself to the children in her extended family, and taught children for 25 years at the preschool associated with the Wilder Foundation. She and her late husband, Albert McFarland Jr., never had children of their own. Crawford said McFarland spent countless hours with him and his sister. “I wouldn’t be who I am today if it wasn’t for my Aunt Dorothy,” he said.
A little known fact, Crawford said, is that McFarland was also the godmother to Prince’s mother. Although she didn’t know the musician, she supplied him, via Crawford, with pictures of his mother that he had never seen.
McFarland’s family was known for longevity (her father lived into his 90s, her sister into her late 80s), but after she hit 100, every subsequent year drew more attention.
“Each birthday became more significant, and people would come up and ask her what her philosophy was, and what her secret was for living so long,” Crawford said. “And she would say, ‘Love.’ That was her philosophy on life.”