Remember the star behind Chaka Khan

To the Editor:

It’s nice to read that the 5000 block of South Blackstone Avenue will be honorarily named after former Kenwood High student Chaka Khan, as I am sure this will raise the market value of my 1978 Kenwood diploma. But I’m sure Ms. Khan would agree that an even longer length of nearby pavement ought to be named in honor of her Kenwood teacher, the distinguished and charismatic music educator Dr. Lena McLin.

I remember Dr. McLin explaining that when Ms. Khan (nee Yvette Stevens) had been in her class, her style was formed in imitation of Aretha. I also fondly recall McLin tearing up the Yamaha grand piano, whether she was playing gospel (a style she learned at the feet of her uncle, Rev. Thomas A. Dorsey), or Beethoven’s Sonata Pathetique (which she encouraged me to play). Finally, I recollect at least one time when she left the classroom to quiet the young people who would congregate in the hall (her classroom was near the door at the 51st Street and Blackstone Avenue entrance), returning with a sheepish rogue whom through sheer force of personality she drafted into doing vocal warm ups in front of the class.

The Herald’s online archives contain a wealth of fascinating information about Dr. McLin’s career, including her founding of the music major program at Kenwood, her supreme standards of choral excellence and her insistence on exposing talented students from the South Side to performing opera as well as a broad range of other musical forms. The effort took many of them all over the country for contests and concerts and led to not a few distinguished careers in music. In this regard she was a pioneer in the type of outreach more recently touted by the likes of Barenboim and Muti, with the obvious addition of unique insider cred. Lena McLin’s long career at ground zero of Chaka Khan Honorary Way tells an important story about the founding ideals of Kenwood High, about diversity in Hyde Park/Kenwood and about Chicago’s and the nation’s musical history; they should be remembered.

Andrew S. Mine