Pop star R Kelly would not have achieved his Grammy-winning, platinum-selling success without the support of his high-school music teacher, a new interview reveals.
“On the first day I met her, Ms McLin told me, ‘You’re going to be one of the greatest singers, songwriters and performers of all time,” Kelly said. “I thought the lady was crazy.”
He met Lena McLin during his first day at Kenwood Academy, in Chicago. In that first music lesson, she persuaded him to sing in front of the class.
After that, she “made me do a talent show”, Kelly said. When he told her there was no way he was going to perform in front of a room full of people, she told him to put on a pair of dark glasses and pretend that he was blind.
The tactic worked: his performance was greeted with enthusiastic screaming. “I ain’t never got this feeling on no basketball court,” the 48-year-old said. “You know, my spirit, my soul, my DNA switched. Life as I knew it was never the same, thanks to Ms McLin.”
After he had left school and moved to Los Angeles, where was struggling to achieve recognition, he spoke to his former teacher almost every day. “She started telling me that the depth of struggle determines the height of success,” he said. “Struggle is what’s going to build character.
“She used to tell me, ‘Get ready, because this is nothing compared to what you’re going to go through when you reach the top of the mountain’.”
Kelly, known as “the king of R&B” after becoming the most successful R&B male artist of the 1990s, has won three Grammy Awards. He is best known for the song I Believe I Can Fly, as well as for writing Michael Jackson’s song You Are Not Alone.
Kelly was speaking to the Chicago Sun-Times in advance of a benefit concert in honour of his former teacher. The aim was to raise funds to help the 87-year-old Ms McLin keep her home, which is being converted into apartments that she cannot afford on her teachers' pension.
“Nobody could do what she did for me,” Kelly said of Ms McLin, his eyes welling up with tears. “Nobody was even interested in doing what she did for me. Nobody. Even to this day.”
Watch the interview here: