SIOUX CITY -- Durinda Aspleaf on Thursday recounted the time she sneaked Aretha Franklin some pre-performance cookies, to the chagrin of the music legend's manager.
Franklin, then 73, was preparing to go on stage for her headline performance at the 25th Saturday in the Park festival in Sioux City. Aspleaf, who had been assigned to see to Franklin's needs during her stay, offered her the snack as a polite gesture.
"Her manager caught me and said, 'I can't believe you gave an artist cookies before she went on stage,'" Aspleaf said. "She (Aretha) smiled at me and said, 'Thanks for the cookies, honey.'"
Franklin, the "Queen of Soul" known for classics like "Think," ''I Say a Little Prayer" and "Respect," died Thursday morning of pancreatic cancer. She was 76 years old.
Thursday's news had several Siouxlanders thinking back to the days surrounding July 4, 2015, the night the 18-time Grammy winner performed as the final act at Saturday in the Park, singing her hits for thousands at the Grandview Park band shell.
Those were days that Franklin the legendary performer became someone they could experience as a person. Those like Aspleaf who had the chance to work near Franklin during her stay say they will remember her as gracious and a class act.
"When someone like that comes in, you kind of take a deep breath and go, oh my gosh, what's it going to be like?" Aspleaf said. "She was pleasant to be around. I will always smile when I think about the experience."
Franklin had long been on the list of big-name artists desired by Saturday in the Park, said co-founder Dave Bernstein. After some back-and-forth, Franklin's camp agreed to perform at the event's 25th anniversary -- a major performer for a major milestone.
"It was really an awesome opportunity for so many of us to be able to present her," Bernstein said. "In the same way as somebody like BB King, you know all these guys aren't going to be around forever, so you relish the moment."
Franklin arrived in Sioux City July 3 and stayed two nights at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. Bernstein said upon her arrival, bellhops helped unload all of her luggage to her room. Afterward, she rewarded them with a generous tip.
"She took inventory and called the bell people in one at a time and peeled off a crisp $100 bill herself and tipped them all," he said.
Mike Adams, the Hard Rock's director of marketing, said Franklin was very approachable and handled the hotel arrangements herself. While not difficult to please, Adams said she did have one very specific request.
"For vocal purposes we had to keep that room at no less than 85 degrees for the entirety of her stay," Adams said. "Never had I ever used a space heater in July before."
Adams said following her visit, Franklin sent the hotel staff a large bouquet of flowers as a thank-you gift.
"At this point in Hard Rock's life we've run into thousands of entertainers," he said. "She'll be the one that has definitely left the biggest imprint on this property to date."
For the concert, Franklin brought a few of her own band members, but the rest of the orchestra was comprised of a group of regional players. Among them was Sioux City trumpet player Justin Kisor.
Kisor, who has played with several artists, said playing for Franklin, an icon, in front of such a large crowd was a special moment.
"I might not even grasp the gravity of it until I'm ready to go," he said. "It hits you that it's never going to happen again, but I'm glad it did happen."
He said her warm reception of the band, which isn't always common in the industry, spoke to her character.
"She didn't think she was above anyone. She was just very kind," he said.
Saturday in the Park production manager John Steever, who met Franklin for a brief moment before she took the stage, agreed that working and watching the performance was a special moment.
"The time she spent on stage, I thought it was marvelous," he said. "They're not making them like Aretha anymore."
Sioux City resident Flora Lee, who has been a fan of Franklin since middle school and saw her live four times, had the opportunity to go backstage following the concert. She and her family met with Franklin and have kept a framed photo of the experience ever since.
"She was just very, very humble and very soft-spoken," Lee said of their interaction. "I just thought she was a very gentle soul."
Lee said that concert, her last time seeing Franklin live, was her best memory of her. Like many others, Lee said she was saddened to hear the news of Franklin's death.
"I just think she personified respect and she personified strength and equality and being her own person," she said. "I think that's what her music demonstrated to me because she sang what she wanted to sing."
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