After being delayed nearly a year, Aretha Franklin’s story is finally coming to television via the third installment of National Geographic’s anthology series, Genius: Aretha. Starring Cynthia Erivo, the eight-part series will premiere over four consecutive nights starting Sunday, March 21.
In addition to the official premiere date, the network also released a new two-minute trailer, offering a fuller look at the first-ever and only authorized scripted series about the Queen of Soul’s life and celebrated career.
Starting in the late 1960s, Genius will recount Franklin’s efforts to record her first album with Atlantic Records and then cover major moments in her career and personal life in the two decades that followed. The series will also flashback to her days singing in her father, C.L. Franklin's, church.
“She was an indomitable spirit. She fought to have a voice for civil rights and she fought to change the world. She was the queen in every sense of the word,” Erivo said during the network’s panel at the virtual winter Television Critics Association press tour.
In addition to Erivo, who will perform a number of Franklin’s most memorable songs, Genius features an all-star cast, including Courtney B. Vance as Aretha’s father, C.L. Franklin; Malcolm Barrett as Ted White, Aretha’s first husband and business manager; David Cross as music producer Jerry Wexler.
Additionally, Patrice Covington and Rebecca Naomi Jones portray Aretha’s sisters, Erma and Carolyn Franklin, with Steven Norfleet as her brother, Cecil Franklin, and Pauletta Washington as her paternal grandmother, Rachel. Rounding out the cast is Omar J. Dorsey as James Cleveland, Marque Richardson as King Curtis, Kimberly Hébert Gregory as Ruth Bowen, and Shaian Jordan portraying a young Aretha, known then as Little Re.
Erivo, who grew up singing Franklin’s records before going on to become an Emmy, GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning performer on screen and stage, has long adored the Queen of Soul. “I know her music very well,” she previously told ET, revealing that portraying her idol is “definitely a big undertaking, but I've had a really good time.”
The performer added that audiences will “learn a little bit about her life behind the music -- the thing that made her a genius. You'll learn about some of the darkness in her life. You'll learn a lot of music; some music you might not know. I'm singing everything live, so you'll hear all that.”
Among some of the songs confirmed for the series are “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You),” “Chain of Fools,” “Don’t Play That Song” and “Save Me.”
Genius: Aretha premieres Sunday, March 21 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on National Geographic, with episodes available to stream the following day on Hulu.