Patrisha McLean of Camden founded Finding Our Voices, an organization that supports survivors of domestic abuse. Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald photo

Singer Don McLean’s appearance at a White House dinner last week was “outrageous” and sends a “dangerous and confusing” message to the world about American attitudes toward domestic violence, McLean’s ex-wife told the Press Herald Wednesday.

Patrisha McLean said inviting her ex-husband to the prestigious event, even though he pleaded guilty to charges connected to what she calls “a four-hour violent rampage” against her at their Camden home in 2016, sends a signal to the world that a “convicted domestic abuser” is welcome at the White House.

“It’s a dangerous and confusing signal. How can President Biden say he supports women and then give (McLean) this honor, by inviting him?” said Patrisha McLean, founder and CEO of the group Finding Our Voices, which works to support domestic violence survivors in Maine. “It’s a very scary climate we’re in when the president welcomes a convicted domestic abuser and parades him in front of world leaders.”

The White House did not return calls and emails asking whether officials knew that Don McLean had pleaded guilty to charges that included domestic violence.

McLean, 78, was arrested in January 2016 at the Camden home he shared with his then-wife. The incident led to several charges. Under a plea deal, McLean pleaded guilty to some of them, including domestic violence criminal threatening and criminal restraint, and paid a $3,600 fine, while the other charges were dismissed. The couple divorced in June 2016 after 29 years of marriage.

McLean, best known for his 1971 hit “American Pie,” has denied that he physically assaulted his ex-wife. His lawyer has said McLean pleaded guilty to provide closure for his family and to keep the matter as private as possible. Patrisha McLean was granted a 10-year “order for protection from abuse” against her ex-husband in 2019. A copy of the order, filed in Ellsworth District Court and provided to the Press Herald by Patrisha McLean’s lawyer, states that both parties agreed to the order.


The state dinner on May 23, held in honor of Kenyan President William Ruto, included about 500 guests. McLean was among several celebrities at the dinner, including country singer Brad Paisley, who performed, and author Barbara Kingsolver.


In a reply to questions on Wednesday, Don McLean said in an emailed statement that his ex-wife is a “#MeToo hustler” and is “facing 2 counts of ‘contempt of court.’ ” Don McLean filed a motion for contempt against his ex-wife in August in Knox County Superior Court, accusing Patrisha McLean of violating the divorce settlement by talking about or writing about him in public, according to a copy of the motion provided by Patrisha McLean’s lawyer, Christopher MacLean of Camden.

US Kenya Biden State Dinner

Don McLean and Paris Dunn arrive at the state dinner in Washington on May 23. Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press

Christopher MacLean said that as an advocate for domestic violence survivors, Patrisha McLean uses her own story but only mentions things about her ex-husband that are already in the public record or in court documents. In 2019, Don McLean threatened to sue the Free Press of Rockland, a weekly newspaper, for writing about his ex-wife’s exhibition about domestic abuse, which included her own photos.

In his emailed statement Wednesday, Don McLean said he had been invited to state dinners at the White House two other times during the Biden administration. He said he spent time at the dinner last week with former President Bill Clinton, whom he had met at the White House previously, and also talked to Paisley.

Patrisha McLean said on Wednesday that she had questions about whether or how her ex-husband was vetted before attending the event last Thursday. Don McLean’s name has been linked publicly with state dinners since at least April 2023, when South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol sang “American Pie.” McLean had been invited to that dinner but was on tour in Australia, he said, and provided a signed guitar, which Biden presented to Yoon.


“You don’t get invited to a state dinner without being vetted. How many people up and down the chain knew about (Don McLean’s record) and were OK with it?” said Patrisha McLean.

Patrisha McLean said a board member of Finding Our Voices, whom she did not want to name, had written to the White House after the South Korean president’s visit to tell officials about McLean’s arrest and plea deal and to “urge” he not be invited to a White House function. The letter got no response, Patrisha McLean said.


Don McLean said he did not get a chance to chat with Maine Gov. Janet Mills, who also attended the state dinner last Thursday. He said he wanted to offer to perform in Augusta at the capitol building, “as I am proud to have a home in Maine.” Text messages and emails sent to two of Mills’ staff members, asking what she thought of McLean being invited to the dinner, were not returned Wednesday.

Mills has been a supporter of Finding Our Voices. Her photo and a quote from her appears on the group’s website under the heading “Sisterhood of Survivors.” Her quote reads: “Domestic Violence affects everyone. Years ago, a man I loved threatened my life. Escape from violence is possible.”


Regina Rooney, programming director for the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence​, said Wednesday that Don McLean’s invitation to the White House is a familiar example of people in power giving “cultural permission” for violence against women.

“We ought to be careful how we elevate the profiles of abusive people – and they are everywhere in our lives. There is already so much cultural permission for men’s violence, which has a ‘letting them off the hook’ effect on the one using abuse, as well as a silencing and intimidating effect on their victims,” Rooney said in an email. “When we highlight and celebrate abusive people, we only exacerbate these effects.”

In 2019, the UCLA Student Alumni Association rescinded a lifetime achievement award it had decided to give McLean, after learning from a reporter about his plea deal. In 2021, Taylor Swift sent Don McLean flowers after she broke his record for the longest song to hit No. 1. Many major publications wrote about the gesture, with no mention of his plea deal or allegations against him. And last week McLean was interviewed by about his new album, “American Boys.”

Staff Writer Kay Neufeld contributed to this story. 

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