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Aretha Franklin's final public performance took place in New York on 7 November 2017 at a gala celebrating the 25th anniversary of Elton John's AIDS foundation. (Aug. 16) AP

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It’s 10 a.m. on a Sioux City summer morning in 2015 when David Bernstein’s phone rings.

Bernstein’s about two weeks out from throwing the 25th annual Saturday in the Park, a free, outdoor concert in the heart of Woodbury County.

His caller ID flashes “private.” Not uncommon, Bernstein recalled. He’d been receiving quite a few political calls that week.

But it wasn’t a pollster on the other line.

“Dave Bernstein? This is Aretha Franklin,” he heard on the other line.

The Queen of Soul was headlining Saturday in the Park that summer, and she needed to book hotel rooms for herself and the band.

“You immediately snap to attention because, trust me,” Bernstein said. “There is no question that when Aretha Franklin calls you at 10 in the morning, Aretha’s running the phone call. It is not your phone call.”

Franklin played to an estimated crowd of 25,000 that Fourth of July, what would be the last Iowa performance for the iconic Detroit soul singer. The first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame died Thursday morning at age 76.

Doctors confirm her cause of death to be “advanced pancreatic cancer of the neuroendocrine type.”

"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,” her family said in a statement. “We have lost the matriarch and rock of our family."

OBITUARY: Aretha Franklin dies at 76: Detroit star transformed American music

Franklin appeared at Saturday in the Park, one of her last festival appearances, backed by her band plus a 28-piece orchestra comprised of local players.

She rode in from Detroit on her tour bus three days ahead of the concert, tipping the hotel bellboys in $100 bills. She was warm and welcoming to the Iowans, including Durinda Aspleaf, a festival volunteer who assisted her during her visit.

Aspleaf shared snacks and small talk with Franklin. She tracked down new garment bags for the star’s many outfits and helped direct costume changes during the performance.

She remembered the 18-time Grammy Award-winning singer as being a genuine star.

“I never really knew what to expect, but she was one of my favorites,” Aspleaf said. “She was funny and nice and the whole nine yards.”

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The band and orchestra rehearsed the night before, giving the city's Grandview Park neighborhood a taste of what would come the following night when a legend took the stage.

Franklin traveled with a “librarian,” Bernstein said, who would distribute sheet music of her songs to each player.

“She just dealt with things at a level most performers today don't,” Bernstein said.

As for the concert? Well, the songs speak for themselves. “Respect,” “Chain of Fools” and “Freeway of Love” all made the set, which saw Franklin entertain her audience behind a Steinway piano. She even gave a nod to Simon & Garfunkel, playing “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”

One word to describe it?

“Unbelievable,” Aspleaf said.

“The front of that stage at the park is always interesting because ... you can always feel 'em,” she said. “(Franklin) sent off a certain vibe with her presence. (I was) awestruck.”

Or, as Bernstein described it: “A classy show.”

And it’s possible Franklin felt the same about that night. She sent a bouquet of flowers the next week to the Sioux City Journal, attached with a note of gratitude.

““Thank you for your great review,” the Journal reported the note saying. “Sioux City and the Concert Audience are the greatest. All the best, Aretha Franklin.”

The Detroit Free Press contributed to this report. 

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