— -- R. Kelly says he owes everything to Lena McLin, his music mentor from high school. Now he's repaying her by helping her keep her home in Chicago.
Last week, the Grammy-winning singer, 48, performed a benefit concert in her honor according to spoke the Chicago Sun-Times. Kelly first met the teacher when he started school at Kenwood Academy more than 30 years ago.
"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,'" he told the Sun-Times. "She taught me opera, classical music, jazz, gospel. She said, ‘You are music. You’re not in any one category. Anything you attempt, you’ll be able to tap into the spirit of it, and that’s the gift you have.’ She made me.”
The 87-year-old retiree taught for 36 years but has been fighting to keep her apartment. Her pension doesn't cover the condo conversion currently going on in her building.
“I cleaned that apartment so many times, just paying my dues, no different than I would clean my mom’s house,” Kelly said. "Nobody. Could do what she did for me. Nobody was even interested in doing what she did for me. Nobody. Even to this day. Nobody has my interest like she does."
Kelly even recalled his first interaction with his mentor and inspiration.
"She looked at me and said, ‘You. Come here,'" Kelly recalled. "I’m thinking what did I do? She said, ‘Do you know who you are?’ I said, ‘Yes. My name is Robert.’ She said, ‘No. You’re going to be one of the greatest. You’re going to work with people like Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson.’ I told her, ‘Lady, I’m a basketball player.’ She said, ‘Not no more.’"
After McLin encouraged the R&B star to sing in a school talent show, Kelly said he felt like "Peter Parker bit by the spider, and I’ve been spraying webs ever since...from that day, life as I knew it was never the same."