Rev. Dr. Lena McLin, Chicago pastor, music teacher for Jennifer Hudson, Chaka Khan, dies

Samantha Chatman Image
Wednesday, October 4, 2023
Rev. Dr. Lena McLin, Chicago music teacher, remembered for legacy
Rev. Dr. Lena McLin, a Chicago pastor and music teacher whose protégés include Jennifer Hudson and Chaka Khan, has died.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The Rev. Dr. Lena McLin, a Chicago icon and institution in the music industry, died Tuesday night, her family confirmed to ABC7 Chicago.

Famously known as the "the woman who launched a thousand careers," McLin has worked with some of the biggest celebrities in the music industry, including Chaka Khan, Tony Award-winning actor Mandy Patinkin, Jennifer Hudson and R. Kelly, to name a few.

"I'll never forget one day in chorus, she said, 'sing something,'" Patinkin said. "I sang, and I thought I was going to get in trouble. She said 'child, anybody who tells you not to use that voice, you tell them, come see Lena!' and she gave me the courage to use my voice any way I chose, and I'll never forget it."

McLin spent several years as a choir director at Kenwood Academy High School on Chicago's South Side, inspiring hundreds of students over the years to be their best selves, stand tall and lift their voices.

"Her legacy is dramatically profound. Her plate was completely full, and it didn't even feel that way for her," McLin's grandson William Kurk said.

Known for her no-nonsense demeanor, former students recall her firm yet motherly approach in teaching and mentoring young adults. Many have referred to her as their second mom, someone they could lean on through life's challenges.

"She wanted you to see that you could be excellent in something you never knew," former student Roger Plummer said. "You never knew you could sing in Italian; you never knew you could perform on the stage."

"God gave you the gift, you should be using it. From the first day that I met her, my life has not been the same," former student Sonya Blakey said.

McLin is the niece of Thomas A. Dorsey, known as the father of Gospel. She moved to Chicago to live with Dorsey when she was a young girl, being immersed in a world of music that would impact her life for nearly a century to come.

"As a composer, the arias and the hymns that she created and the chorus works that have been performed literally all over the world," Plummer said.

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She went on to receive her Bachelor's degree at the historic Spelman College. McLin would also go on to receive honorary doctorate degrees in Humanities from Spelman and Virginia Union University.

McLin has composed and arranged dozens of musical pieces, from classical to gospel works of art, garnering her notoriety not just in the states, but globally.

In 1981, Lena founded Holy Vessel Baptist Church in Hyde Park, becoming an ordained minister, and the head pastor, while also serving as the minister of music.

Her gifts to this world will live on forever in her ministry, music and the lives she has touched.

"I love you forever and I appreciate everything she's done for me," Kurk said. "She's made me who I am as a person."

ABC7 Chicago's Samantha Chatman said she is also blessed to have known her. As a former student and member of her church, she always taught Chatman to dream big, and never forget where she came from.

McLin died at the age of 95.

She leaves behind a daughter, son-in-law, two grandsons and one great-grandson.