National Geographic, with Imagine Television Studios and Fox 21 Television Studios, announced today the cast joining previously-announced Cynthia Erivo (Harriet, Broadway’s The Color Purple) as Aretha Franklin in the next installment of the Emmy-winning global anthology series Genius: Aretha. Malcolm Barrett (Timeless, Preacher), Patrice Covington (Broadway’s The Color Purple), Kimberly Hébert Gregory (Vice Principals), Rebecca Naomi Jones (The Big Sick) and Sanai Victoria (Black-ish) will star in the eight-episode global limited series.
Additionally, Anthony Hemingway (Power, The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story) is tapped to serve as executive producer and direct the pilot episode of the upcoming season, the first-ever, definitive and only authorized scripted limited series on the life of the universally acclaimed Queen of Soul.
Barrett joins as Ted White, Aretha’s first husband and business manager, who develops relationships with songwriters and producers and picks some of her biggest hits. But as Aretha gains fame, White’s heavy drinking and volatile behavior ends their marriage. Covington and Jones will portray Erma and Carolyn Franklin, respectively, Aretha’s sisters, who are both talented performers in their own right and sing backup for Aretha. Hébert Gregory will play Ruth Bowen, a pioneer in her field, the head of a successful black-owned agency, who represents Aretha, booking her into world-class venues and getting her onto the covers of Time and Ebony magazines. Victoria will be Little Re (young Aretha), the shy, immensely talented daughter of celebrated Detroit preacher Clarence LaVaughn (C.L.) Franklin, who thrusts her into the spotlight at a very young age.
Prolific producer and director Hemingway will serve as an executive producer and direct the pilot episode of Genius: Aretha. Filming will start this December for a spring 2020 premiere on National Geographic channels in 172 countries and 43 languages. The series has two previous installments, Genius: Einstein and Genius: Picasso.
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.