With the passing of Aretha Franklin, Chicagoans are recalling her strong love for the City.
Former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama said on Twitter, “Aretha helped define the American experience. In her voice, we could feel our history, all of it and in every shade – our power and our pain, our darkness and our light, our quest for redemption and our hard-won respect. May the Queen of Soul rest in eternal peace.”
When appearing in the City, Aretha loved to dine at the exclusive RL Restaurant on Chicago off North Michigan Avenue. She and her entourage would sit at Table 68, the corner table. She loved calf liver and Dover sole. She took care of the wait staff with generous tips.
She also loved the gumbo at Captain Hard Time on East 79th Street on the city’s South Side. She declared the gumbo, “the best gumbo in the world.”
Mother Josephine Wade remembers, “Aretha was very good to everyone. She treated you so well. I would take her gumbo down to her hotel and in 2015, I prepared gumbo for her backstage reception at Ravinia Music Festival. She often paid me $1,000 to $1,500 more than the cost of the gumbo. I’m trying to go to Detroit for her funeral services.”
John Hall, Jr., the former Arista Records Midwest Regional Director, R&B Promotion based in Chicago, says he will remember Aretha Franklin for “being a nice, regular person. There was nothing phony about her.”
Aretha was a lifelong supporter of the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition and performed several benefits for the human rights organization.
Rev. Jackson says, “My heart is heavy and in so much pain. A lot of music left earth today. The Heavens rejoice. Aretha, my sister beloved and friend with the four-octave range inimitable sound, has gone even higher. She had been battling a debilitating illness over the last few years. She fought as gallantly as she sang with faith, power and dignity… She did not own sickness. She owned health. She owned joy, power, love and music…forever ours, Aretha.”
Aretha enjoyed an enduring friendship with soul/gospel singer Mavis Staples of Chicago. They met during the gospel circuit when they were teenagers in 1960.
“I’ve lost another sister,” wrote Staples on Facebook. “But I am so thankful for all the wonderful memories that we have had. I will love you always, Ree.”
Her favorite spot in Chicago was Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park. She would love to look at the water…it brought her peace.
It was at Chicago’s Regal Theater where she became the “Queen of Soul” in the 60s. WVON deejay Pervis Spann gave her the nickname soon after Dinah Washington, the Queen of the Blues, died. Spann had vision and could tell Aretha’s music was unique, everlasting and soulful.
Her last Chicago performance was September 2017 at Ravinia Music Festival. She performed a total of eight times at Ravinia.
Nick Pullia, spokesman for Ravinia, said, “We had originally scheduled Aretha to perform in June of 2017, but under doctor’s orders, she had to postpone it until September…aside from the obvious weight loss, there’d be no guessing that anything was wrong because she tore the roof off the place.”
“We’ve been hearing from our patrons over the past couple of days about how blessed they feel to have witnessed the bigger-than-life Aretha in full voice and great spirits one last time at Ravinia…she’s left a legacy that will keep her alive forever.”
Public viewing will be held on August 28-29 at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History 9am-9pm. Services will be held August 31, at Greater Grace Temple in Detroit.