NEW YORK (Reuters) – Outside New York City’s landmark Apollo Theater, fans gathered under the marquee announcing singer Aretha Franklin’s death, some singing along to hits like “Respect” playing from loudspeakers down the street.
“My heart feels empty,” said Sheila Black, 51, who grew up nearby in the city’s Harlem neighborhood and recalled listening to Franklin’s “Another Night Without You” to get over heartbreak.
“Her music will live forever. I’m just so sad that we had to lose her,” Black said.
Franklin died at home in Detroit on Thursday after a battle with pancreatic cancer, her family said.
Billy Mitchell, known as “Mr. Apollo,” is the long-time historian for the theater, which since 1934 has launched the careers of many of America’s greatest black artists.
“We’re sad but we’re very grateful to have had someone like Aretha Franklin in our lifetime,” he told reporters, recalling how Franklin paved the way for other female musicians.
Inducted to the Apollo’s Walk of Fame in 2010, Franklin performed at the theater more than a dozen times, most recently in 2010. Her June 1971 “homecoming” show “drove fans to near-hysteria,” according to the theater.
“Aretha’s legacy should be excellence in music,” Mitchell said, adding that the Apollo would likely organize a tribute. “There’s a reason why she’s queen. You don’t get to get that title by being mediocre.”
Lou Adams, 77, who had seen Franklin perform at the Apollo, said she was one of the greats. “It’s an experience you can’t explain, you have to feel,” he said of the concert.
A 28-year-old woman who gave her name only as Bianca was taking photographs with her family nearby. She described feeling moved when she watched Franklin perform at the 2008 inauguration of President Barack Obama.
“Although I didn’t grow up listening to her I knew she was a legend,” she said. “She was really important to our community and it’s a great loss.”
Reporting by Tea Kvetenadze; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Dan Grebler