Genius: Aretha Takes You Through the Queen of Soul’s Most Iconic Moments

Check out five of the most exciting aspects to look out for in the new National Geographic series.

THERE’S AN ALL-STAR CAST

Erivo, as a triple threat Tony, Emmy, and Grammy Award winner, knows a thing or two about career-defining songs. The important role of Reverend C.L. Franklin, Aretha Franklin’s father, is played by Emmy-winner Courtney B. Vance (The People v. O.J Simpson). Malcolm Barrett (Timeless) is Franklin’s first husband and manager, Ted White, while David Cross (Arrested Development) plays legendary music producer Jerry Wexler—who helps Franklin develop her legendary sound.

THE SHOW FOLLOWS FRANKLIN OVER NEARLY FIVE DECADES

Genius: Aretha shows us pivotal moments in Franklin’s life, from her birth in 1942 to teaching herself piano without knowing how to read music, and her show-stopping performance of “Nessun Dorma” at the 1998 Grammy Awards. The series touches on Franklin’s often-complicated personal life beginning from her youth on the gospel circuit and goes through her turbulent marriages and persistent desire to establish herself as a hit singer.

WE GET TO SEE FRANKLIN’S WORK AS AN ACTIVIST

Her involvement with the Civil Rights Movement of the ’60s was a major part of Franklin’s career and life. The series covers her work with Martin Luther King Jr. and shows how she grappled with her public-facing image while standing firm in her beliefs and staying true to herself. In episode five, we see Franklin record “Young, Gifted and Black,” a protest album inspired by Angela Davis and the Soledad Brothers.

Franklin’s crowning as the Queen of Soul wasn’t metaphoric—it actually happened, complete with a ceremony, certificate, and crown. Look for this at the end of the first episode.

WE GET AN INSIDE LOOK AT THE RECORDING PROCESS

Franklin wasn’t traditionally trained in music, so she would describe how her music should sound without using technical terms. Throughout the series, Genius: Aretha lets you watch how her ideas and inspirations developed into written songs.

One of the show’s loveliest touches is the foreshadowing that leads up to the star writing “Respect”—which begins in episode one when Franklin’s sister mentions the new phrase the kids are saying: “sock it to me.” As we all know, the line goes on to become an iconic part of Franklin’s songwriting legacy.

IT’S A FRONT ROW SEAT TO A QUEEN OF SOUL CONCERT

Erivo sings every song in the series, and it’s a pleasure from start to end. Her performance of “How I Got Over” in episode two makes you feel like you’re in the room the entire time. Franklin, in a short wig, blue eyeshadow, and a cream dress, captivates the room with her version of the gospel tune. It’s also the moment that convinces Jerry Wexler that the “Aretha Franklin sound” is hers and hers alone—something he’d been waiting for her to prove to herself, as well.

We watch her struggle with music’s transition from R&B and soul into the era of disco and her efforts to keep up with the time and trends. Get excited for episode six—it features the recording of her tremendous gospel album, “Amazing Grace.”

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