Donald McLean, Jr., born in New Rochelle, New York is best known for the 1971 album American Pie, containing the renowned songs "American Pie" and "Vincent."
As a teenager, McLean became interested in folk music, particularly the Weavers' 1955 recording At Carnegie Hall. By age 16 he had bought his first guitar and became friends with folk singer Erik Darling, a latter-day member of the Weavers. McLean recorded his first studio sessions, with singer Lisa Kindred, while still in school.
McLean graduated from Iona Preparatory School in 1963, and briefly attended Villanova University, dropping out after four months. While at Villanova he became friends with singer/songwriter Jim Croce.
After leaving college, for the next six years McLean performed at the Bitter End and the Gaslight Cafe in New York, the Newport Folk Festival, the Cellar Door in Washington, D.C., and the Troubadour in Los Angeles. After finishing his undergraduate degree, McLean turned down a scholarship to Columbia University Graduate School so he could become resident singer at Caffè Lena in Saratoga Springs, NY.
McLean recorded his first album, Tapestry, in 1969 in Berkeley, California during the student riots. After being rejected by 34 labels, the album was released by Mediarts and attracted good reviews but little notice outside the folk community.
McLean's major break came when Mediarts was taken over by United Artists Records. His second album, American Pie spawned two No. 1 hits; the title song and "Vincent." American Pie's success made McLean an international star and renewed interest in his first album, which charted more than two years after its initial release.
"American Pie" reached number one on the U.S. Billboard magazine charts for four weeks in 1972, and remains McLean's most successful single release. The single also topped the Billboard Easy Listening survey. It is also the longest song to reach No. 1 with a running time of 8:36. Some stations played only part one of the original split-sided single release.