Lena McLin, who taught music to Jennifer Hudson, Chaka Khan, dies at 95

Born in Atlanta, Lena McLin was the niece of Thomas A. Dorsey, called the father of gospel music. (Courtesy of The History Makers)

Credit: The History Makers

Credit: The History Makers

Born in Atlanta, Lena McLin was the niece of Thomas A. Dorsey, called the father of gospel music. (Courtesy of The History Makers)

CHICAGO — Georgia-born Lena McLin, a Chicago pastor and music teacher whose students included Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Hudson, Chaka Khan, R. Kelly and Mandy Patinkin, died Tuesday. She was 95.

McLin was the niece of the Rev. Thomas Dorsey, born in Villa Rica. He is widely credited with integrating secular blues sounds with sacred music and is often called the father of modern gospel music.

McLin died at Ingalls Memorial Hospital in the south Chicago suburb of Harvey, Illinois from heart failure, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

McLin taught music for decades at Kenwood Academy High School, a public school in Chicago, until she retired in 1992, according to the newspaper.

Known as “the woman who launched a thousand careers,” McLin taught famous students and thousands of others during her five-decade career, WLS-TV reported.

“I’ll never forget one day in chorus, she said sing something,” Patinkin, who sang in Kenwood’s choir, once said, according to the television station. “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 continued to teach after retiring, instructing students from her home, WBBM-TV reported.

“She just allows me to basically flourish as a singer,” one of her students, R.J. Johnson, told the television station in 2013.” Without her and her technique, I don’t think my voice would be as developed as it is now.”

Her uncle, Thomas A. Dorsey, worked early in the 20th century with blues acts, such as Georgia’s Ma Rainey. He later left secular music and penned more than 3,000 songs, WLS reported. Born in Atlanta to Benjamin Johnson, a pastor, and Bernice Dorsey Johnson, who sang in her husband’s church, McLin went to live with her uncle when she was 5 years old, the Sun-Times reported.

She later returned to Atlanta for high school and earned a music degree from Spelman College, according to the newspaper.

McLin began teaching in Chicago and started at Kenwood Academy in 1970.

Hudson was singing on cruise ships when she took private lessons from McLin, the teacher’s daughter, Beverly Jones, told the Sun-Times. McLin watched from home as Hudson finished seventh during the third season of “American Idol” in 2004, the newspaper reported.

Hudson would win an Academy Award two years later as Best Supporting Actress in the musical “Dreamgirls.”

McLin wrote more than 400 pieces of music, ranging from pop to classic, the Sun-Times reported.

“Everything I know about singing, I learned from her,” blues singer Deitra Farr told WBBM.

In 1981, she became an ordained minister and founded Holy Vessel Baptist Church in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago.