National Geographic’s limited series ‘Genius: Aretha,’ starring Cynthia Erivo as Queen of Soul, to premiere March 21

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Karu F. Daniels, New York Daily News
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In a television event fit for a queen, National Geographic has announced the premiere date of its eight-part, four-night anthology series, “Genius: Aretha,” chronicling the life and times of late, great music legend Aretha Franklin.

Cynthia Erivo carries a heavy load as the “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” singer, who died in 2018 at age 76.

The Tony, Grammy and Emmy Award-winning star of Broadway’s “The Color Purple” will portray the 20-time Grammy Award winner as an adult in the comprehensive estate-authorized series, chronicling her journey from childhood through her latter years recording on Arista Records.

New discovery Shaian Jordan will play the “Freeway of Love” powerhouse during her childhood years.

Helmed by Emmy Award winner Anthony Hemingway, “Genius: Aretha” will air as a four-night event series beginning March 21 at 9 p.m. EDT on the National Geographic Channel. The eight hour-long episodes of the season will air in pairs of two, with all available to stream on Hulu by March 25 – Franklin’s birthday.

On Tuesday, Nat Geo revealed the premiere date and a new trailer during its virtual Television Critics Association presentation.

“Genius: Aretha,” which has suffered a few delays over the last year due to COVID-19, wrapped production late last year.

Emmy winner Courtney B. Vance star as Franklin’s father, C.L. Franklin, with a cast including Malcolm Barrett, David Cross, Patrice Covington and Broadway luminary Rebecca Naomi Jones taking on two roles as Erma and Carolyn Franklin.

Pauletta Pearson Washington, Steven Norfleet, Omar J. Dorsey, Marque Richardson and Kimberly Hébert Gregory also appear.

Pulitzer Prize recipient, MacArthur “Genius” grant receiver, and Tony Award winner Suzan-Lori Parks, who recently scripted HBO’s “Native Son” remake and Lee Daniels’ forthcoming “The United States V. Billie Holiday,” serves as showrunner, executive producer and lead writer of series, which features many touchpoints of Franklin’s illustrious life, including lesser known upsets and personal struggles.

Legendary hit-record producer Clive Davis and current Atlantic Records chairman and CEO Craig Kallman will serve as executive producers of “Genius: Aretha,” alongside Hollywood heavies Brian Grazer and Ron Howard.

As far as the music is concerned, modern soul architect Raphael Saadiq and jazz virtuoso Terence Blanchard will handle the chores.

The Academy Award nominated, Grammy-winning former Tony! Toni! Tone! and Lucy Pearl frontman will officially serve as executive music producer, while the Grammy Award-winning instrumentalist – who has composed songs for many of Spike Lee’s movies, including “BlacKkKlansman” – will create original music for “Genius.”

According to Nat Geo, many of Franklin’s biggest recordings and hit songs will be featured, including her works from the comprehensive Warner Music catalogue, such as “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You),” “Chain of Fools,” “Don’t Play That Song” and “Save Me” and the pop hits o the Arista years: “I Knew You Were Waiting for Me,” “Freeway of Love” and “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves.

The “Genius” series set out to dramatize the fascinating stories of the world’s most brilliant innovators, exploring their extraordinary achievements along with their volatile, passionate and complex personal relationships.

Previous subjects include brilliant scientist Albert Einstein (portrayed by Geoffrey Rush) in 2017 and 2019 1/4 u2032s installment about iconic Spanish painter Pablo Picasso, played by Antonio Banderas.

The acclaimed series have netted multiple Emmy Award nominations and wins.