Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul singer who spent more than a half-century singing in Atlantic City, died Thursday at her home in Detroit.
She was 76.
The singer’s relationship with Atlantic City predates the casino era.
Franklin performed during the 1960s at the now defunct Club Harlem on Kentucky Avenue before the first Atlantic City casino opened in 1978, said Ralph Hunter, founder, of the African American Heritage Museum of Southern New Jersey.
The Queen of Soul appeared eight times between 1966 and 1970 inside Steel Pier in Atlantic City, said Jim Craine, 63, of Smithville, who worked as an usher inside the venue's Music Hall Theater.
She made rare appearances in the early days of the casinos, but became a more regular presence from the late 1980s through the 2000s.
“Having seen the first show in every Atlantic City casino since day one, no one ever topped Aretha Franklin’s roof-raising performance on July 21, 1981, when she opened the intimate, 500-seat Palace Theater at the Claridge Hotel & Casino. Electrifying doesn’t begin to describe the reaction from the audience. And the more the people got into the show, the more it seemed to energize the artist who raised soul music to a whole new level,” said David J. Spatz, an At The Shore entertainment columnist and news director for WOND 1400-AM.
Franklin was “easy to work with” and her shows “excited capacity crowds,” said Glenn Lillie, who served as vice president of marketing and communications at Claridge from 1980 to 2001.
“She was our first headliner in the Palace Theater. Our entertainment director then was Lenny Hambro, who was quite well known on ‘The Tonight Show,’ and it was his 30-piece orchestra that backed her up,” Lillie said Thursday.
“She was easy, no problems. The only demand that she had was that she needed the air conditiioning off. The air conditioning really bothered her, so we made that arrangement,” he said.
Besides Franklin’s headlining casino showroom performances, she also gave special attention to the people who worked and lived in the resort. In 1988, she let employees at the now defunct Trump Castle watch her 2½ hour concert rehearsal during their shift breaks in a 450-seat showroom. She made an unannounced appearance in 1996 at the free Kentucky Avenue Renaissance Festival. In 2001, she put her hand prints in cement and wrote “To Resorts, Love You Best,” which can be seen outside of the Superstar Theater at Resorts Casino Hotel.
During the 1990s, the vocalist sang at Resorts, Caesars Atlantic City, Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort, Bally’s Grand, Boardwalk Hall, the Tropicana Casino and Resort and the Sands Hotel & Casino.
In the 2000s, the singer performed at Caesars, Resorts, Boardwalk Hall, Harrah’s Resort, House of Blues inside Showboat Casino Hotel and the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa.
In the 2010s, she sang at Caesars, the Taj and the Revel Casino Hotel.
Franklin’s last Atlantic City performance was June 20, 2015 inside the Circus Maximus Theater at Caesars.
Publicist Gwendolyn Quinn tells The Associated Press through a family statement that Franklin died Thursday at 9:50 a.m. at her home in Detroit. The statement said “Franklin’s official cause of death was due to advance pancreatic cancer of the neuroendocrine type, which was confirmed by Franklin’s oncologist, Dr. Philip Phillips of Karmanos Cancer Institute” in Detroit.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
The family added: “In one of the darkest moments of our lives, we are not able to find the appropriate words to express the pain in our heart. We have lost the matriarch and rock of our family. The love she had for her children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and cousins knew no bounds.”
“We have been deeply touched by the incredible outpouring of love and support we have received from close friends, supporters and fans all around the world. Thank you for your compassion and prayers. We have felt your love for Aretha and it brings us comfort to know that her legacy will live on. As we grieve, we ask that you respect our privacy during this difficult time.”
Funeral arrangements will be announced later.