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New Yorkers remember times spent with Aretha Franklin

HARLEM, Manhattan -- New York audiences and venues were key to Aretha Franklin's rise from touring adolescent musical phenomenon to the Queen of Soul.

The most important of those venues, from early in Franklin's six-decade career, was the Apollo Theater. Former owner Frank Schiffman recorded his notes on her various appearances beginning in 1962 at the historic theater on 125th Street on an index card.

"Good blues singer," Schiffman had typed on the card after Franklin's first performance at the Apollo in January of that year. Within a decade, her reviews -- and her payments -- were much stronger.

"A terrific success. Tremendous," Schiffman wrote.

Similar accolades were being given outside of the Apollo on Thursday by the thousands of people passing by every hour. They'd slow down or pause to pay respects beneath the marquee bearing Franklin's name, in tribute, or they would leave mementos on the legendary singer's plaque in the Walk of Fame under the marquee.

"It's sort of synergistic to pay tribute to an international treasure," said Maria Grant-Williams.

She'd brought her teenage daughter and son to the theater on Thursday afternoon to pay tribute as part of their trip from their home near San Diego.

Artist Mark Gaines came to the Apollo from Philadelphia to leave a giant-sized portrait of Franklin.

"Words don't even describe," he told PIX11 News.

Instead, he had passersby write tributes to the legendary songstress on the portrait.

"As much as she is Detroit, as much as she is Memphis, she had such a connection to New York," said Essence Magazine senior entertainment editor Joi-Marie McKenzie about Franklin in an interview.

New Yorkers came the Apollo to acknowledge the legend and recall personal encounters they'd had with the music icon shared.

"Rangel's birthday party," said Harlem resident Denise Randolph, referring to Congressman Charles Rangel's 81st birthday, in 2011. "They chose me to be her escort that day."

Randolph showed a photo of herself with The Queen of Soul and the legendary Harlem congressman from that night. Randolph remembered Franklin fondly for her demeanor, as much as her performance.

"She said, 'You're my escort?'" Randolph told PIX11 News. She recalled Franklin being personable and calming. "Everything was all right," Randolph said.

In addition to the Apollo, Aretha Franklin had also played Madison Square Garden and B.B. King's Blues Club and Grill. It was at the latter location that entertainment promoter Sparkie Martin had played a role in managing her performance. It resulted in his being invited to Franklin's home in Detroit eventually, where he got to know her more personally.

"She was a great cook," Martin told PIX11 News. "She was talented in the kitchen," he said, as he praised her "collard greens, black-eyed peas, corn bread, fried chicken."

"The first thing she'd do is make you take off your shoes," he said, calling her a "relaxed" hostess.

Franklin succumbed to a years-long battle with pancreatic cancer Thursday. Sadly, her struggle with the disease also affected some of her appearances at metro New York venues. Last March, under doctor's orders, she had to cancel two concerts that she'd booked at the Prudential Center in Newark.

Aretha Franklin was 76 years old, and died at her home in Detroit, surrounded by family and friends.