Aretha Franklin’s Rise to Music Royalty Explored in New Season of NatGeo’s ‘Genius’

Aretha Franklin’s Rise to Music Royalty Explored in New Season of NatGeo’s ‘Genius’ February 9, 2021

On Sunday, March 21, the highly-anticipated third season of NatGeo’s “Genius” series shines its spotlight on Aretha Franklin with Oscar-nominee Cynthia Erivo (“Harriet,” “The Outsider”) stepping in as the Queen of Soul. The eight-episode series, produced by 20th Television and Imagine Studios, will air double-stacked episodes for four consecutive nights on the channel, culminating with all available to stream on Franklin’s birthday, March 25.

Aretha Franklin (foreground), played by Cynthia Erivo, rehearsing with backup singers (L to R) played by Kameelah Williams, Patrice Covington (as Erma Franklin) and Erika Jerry. (Credit: National Geographic/Richard DuCree)

Franklin, who carried her gospel roots into mega-superstardom, began singing in Detroit’s New Bethel Baptist Church. A new trailer for the series, released today (below), features her childhood and appearances from Emmy winner Courtney Vance as her father, Rev. C.L. Franklin. In addition to the series, NatGeo launched “The Making of Genius: Aretha” podcast.

Two years after she passed, Franklin looks to be getting the royal treatments in biopics. ‘Genius: Aretha’ looks impressive and comprehensive and Erivo looks well-suited to step into the late diva’s shoes. MGM will also release its own Aretha project, “Respect,” starring Jennifer Hudson and Forrest Whitaker, a big-screen biopic, in August after delays due to the Covid pandemic.

The official synopsis for ‘Genius: Aretha’ follows:

“Genius” is National Geographic’s critically acclaimed anthology series that dramatizes the fascinating stories of the world’s most brilliant innovators and their extraordinary achievements with their volatile, passionate and complex personal relationships. This third season will explore Aretha Franklin’s musical genius and incomparable career, as well as the immeasurable impact and lasting influence she has had on music and culture around the world. Franklin was a gospel prodigy, an outspoken civil rights champion and widely considered the greatest singer of the past 50 years, receiving countless honors throughout her career.”Genius: Aretha” will be the first-ever, definitive and only authorized scripted series on the life of the universally acclaimed Queen of Soul.

Without knowing how to read music, Franklin taught herself to play the piano; at the young age of 12, she began to record songs and sing on gospel tours with her father. She signed her first record deal at age 18 with Columbia Records. In 1966, she moved to Atlantic Records, where she recorded many of her most iconic songs. In 1979, she began a 40-year friendship and partnership with Clive Davis, which produced a number of hit songs, including the highest charting and bestselling song of her career, “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me),” a duet with George Michael. The legendary singer is one of the world’s bestselling musical artists of all time, with more than 75 million records sold globally during her career. Her voice was identified as a “natural resource” by her home state of Michigan.

The episodes will include:


Sunday, March 21, at 9/8c

Desperate for a hit, Aretha travels to Muscle Shoals in 1967 to record her first album with Atlantic Records. After suffering the loss of her surrogate mother, Little Re braves her first solo in 1953, in her father’s, C.L. Franklin, church.


Sunday, March 21, at 10/9c

Struggling to find her sound, Aretha catches the attention of Jerry Wexler at Atlantic Records in 1966. Meanwhile, Little Re has her first touring experience on the Gospel Circuit in 1954 with C.L. Franklin and meets her idol, Clara Ward.


Monday, March 22, at 9/8c

Aretha juggles her music career and her commitment to the civil rights movement, led by Martin Luther King Jr., in 1967 and 1968. Meanwhile, Little Re leaves behind her newborn child to return to the Gospel Circuit in 1955, meeting with music legends James Cleveland and Little Sammie Bryant.


Monday, March 22, at 10/9c

Aretha is featured on the cover of Time Magazine in 1968, but she’s devastated when the article focuses on the scandalous details of her personal life. Barbara Franklin and Young C.L. Franklin struggle to establish themselves in Memphis in 1941, before Little Re is born.



Tuesday, March 23, at 9/8c

Aretha, inspired by Angela Davis and the Soledad Brothers, records her protest album “Young, Gifted and Black” in 1970. Despite Jerry Wexler’s uncertainty, the album is a success. Barbara Franklin makes a decision that has a devastating effect on Little Re in 1951.



Tuesday, March 23, at 10/9c

Aretha records her best-selling live Gospel album “Amazing Grace” in 1972 at New Temple Missionary Baptist Church, ignoring her sibling’s pleas to record instead at New Bethel with their father, C.L. Franklin. Little Re discovers that she’s pregnant with her second child, forcing her to leave school. While pregnant, she records her first album at New Bethel in 1956.



Wednesday, March 24, at 9/8c

As the Queen of Soul enters the age of disco, Aretha will do anything to remain relevant—including stealing an opportunity from her sister Carolyn. She receives a GRAMMY nomination but is ultimately snubbed from winning the award. While at the ceremony, she meets with Arista founder Clive Davis. Meanwhile, Jerry Wexler leaves Atlantic Records, and he and Aretha part ways.



Wednesday, March 24, at 10/9c

Despite significant emotional losses, including a second divorce and the death of her father in 1984, Aretha pushes herself artistically and triumphs. She begins a successful career at Arista, with the help of Clive Davis, and in an unforgettable GRAMMY performance in 1998, she solidifies her eternal reign as the Queen of Soul.

Here’s a look at NatGeo’s ‘Genius: Aretha.’ What do you think?

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