"Don’t say Aretha is making a comeback, because I’ve never been away!"
— Aretha Franklin
Starring 2020 Academy Award Nominee and Triple Threat Tony®-, Emmy®- and Grammy® Award-Winning Cynthia Erivo ("Harriet," "The Color Purple") as Aretha Franklin
Tony®- and Emmy® Award-Winning Courtney B. Vance ("The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story") Starring as Aretha’s Father, C.L. Franklin
Emmy®-, Golden Globe®- and BAFTA TV Award-Winning Anthony Hemingway Serves as Executive Producer and Producing Director;
in Partnership With Fox 21 Television Studios and Imagine Television Studios, Brian Grazer, Ron Howard and Pulitzer Prize-Winning Playwright Suzan-Lori Parks Serve as Executive Producers With Music Mogul Clive Davis, Atlantic Records Chairman and CEO Craig Kallman, and Ken Biller
She was a gospel sensation, outspoken civil rights champion and one of the most gifted singers of her generation. She’s had more than 75 million records sold globally, attained over 112 Billboard hit singles, earned 18 Grammy Awards, performed at three presidential inaugurations and was the first woman to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. GENIUS: ARETHA will chart how gospel prodigy Little Re became the iconic Aretha Franklin, the indisputable Queen of Soul.
You’ve heard Aretha Franklin sing. Now it’s time to hear her story.
GENIUS dramatizes the fascinating stories of the world’s most brilliant innovators, exploring their extraordinary achievements along with their volatile, passionate and complex personal relationships. The third season of National Geographic’s critically acclaimed global anthology series will premiere over four consecutive nights, beginning Memorial Day, Monday, May 25, at 9/8c. This upcoming season will be the first-ever, definitive and only authorized scripted limited series on the life of Aretha Franklin.
The eight-part series will explore Franklin’s musical genius and incomparable career, and the immeasurable impact and lasting influence she has had on music and culture around the world. GENIUS: ARETHA will alternate between present-day storylines and scenes from her youth, focusing on her childhood and the pivotal events that influenced her career as an adult.
Imagine has partnered with Warner Music Entertainment for this third season, which will again be executive produced by Imagine’s Brian Grazer and Ron Howard. Pulitzer Prize recipient, MacArthur "Genius" grant receiver and Tony Award winner Suzan-Lori Parks ("Topdog/Underdog") is showrunner and executive producer. Emmy, Golden Globe and BAFTA TV Award winner Anthony Hemingway ("The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story") will also executive produce and serve as producing director for the season.
Legendary hit record producer Clive Davis and Atlantic Records Chairman and CEO Craig Kallman have also joined as executive producers. Franklin worked with Davis for 23 years, during the longest period of her recording career. Returning executive producers include Francie Calfo (GENIUS, "Empire"), Ken Biller (GENIUS: EINSTEIN, GENIUS: PICASSO), Gigi Pritzker and Rachel Shane (MWM Studios), and Sam Sokolow (EUE/Sokolow). In addition, Imagine’s Anna Culp serves as co-executive producer alongside producer Peter Afterman.
Franklin’s legacy is brought to life by 2020 Academy Award nominee Cynthia Erivo ("Harriet," "The Color Purple"), whose incomparable depth as an actor and musician shines light on the woman behind the music, and the genius of Aretha. Joining her is Shaian Jordan as Young Aretha (Little Re), the shy, immensely talented daughter of celebrated Detroit preacher Clarence LaVaughn (C.L.) Franklin, played by Courtney B. Vance ("The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story"), who thrusts Aretha into the spotlight at a very young age. C.L., a star in his own right, was known as the "Million Dollar Voice" and had his legendary sermons published and aired on a weekly radio show, and also booked national ministry tours and public appearances.
Pauletta Washington ("She’s Gotta Have It") plays Grandmother Rachel, the matriarch of the Franklin family after C.L.’s wife’s death. She dotes on her son C.L. and raises his children as her own. Patrice Covington (Broadway’s "The Color Purple") and Rebecca Naomi Jones ("The Big Sick") portray Erma and Carolyn Franklin, respectively, Aretha’s sisters — both talented performers who sing backup for Aretha later in life. Steven Norfleet ("Watchmen") plays Cecil, Aretha’s brother, who is protective over her and her romantic relationships. Omar J. Dorsey ("Queen Sugar") joins as James Cleveland, a choir director who joins C.L. Franklin’s church and eventually befriends and coaches Little Re.
Malcolm Barrett ("Timeless," "Preacher") joins as Ted White, Franklin’s first husband and business manager, who develops relationships with songwriters and producers and picks some of her biggest hits.
David Cross ("Goliath," "Arrested Development") is Jerry Wexler, the legendary record producer who first spots Franklin’s incredible talent and potential. As her success grows it causes a conflict of interest as their creative relationship changes and their professional stakes increase. King Curtis, played by Marque Richardson ("Dear White People"), is a horn player who joins the Muscle Shoals musicians during Franklin’s first recording session with Cross as producer. Kimberly Hébert Gregory ("Vice Principals") plays Ruth Bowen, a pioneer in her field and the head of a successful black-owned agency, who represents Franklin, booking her at world-class venues and getting her onto the covers of Time and Ebony magazines.
The series features a number of well-known personalities who crossed paths with Franklin, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Quincy Jones, Dinah Washington, Luther Vandross, George Michael, Lena Horne and more. GENIUS: ARETHA will broadcast in 172 countries and in 43 languages on National Geographic Channels.
National Geographic, the company behind the recent Oscar-winning and seven Emmy-winning FREE SOLO, premiered the first season of GENIUS in 2017; it starred Geoffrey Rush as the brilliant scientist Albert Einstein. Biller was showrunner and creator for the multi-Emmy-winning GENIUS: PICASSO and GENIUS: EINSTEIN. GENIUS: EINSTEIN earned 10 Emmy nominations, including Outstanding Limited Series, as well as Golden Globe and SAG Award nominations for Rush. The follow-up season, GENIUS: PICASSO, starred Antonio Banderas as the titular Spanish painter and matched much of the success of its predecessor, earning seven Emmy nominations — and two wins — as well as Golden Globe and SAG Award nominations for Banderas.
Imagine has a history of creating timeless and culturally impactful films, shows and documentaries in the world of music, including the Academy Award-winning film "8 Mile," the Grammy Award-winning documentary "The Beatles: Eight Days a Week — The Touring Years," the critically acclaimed documentary "Pavarotti" and the Emmy-winning television drama "Empire." The company also produced the film "Get on Up" about James Brown as well as many documentaries, including "Jay Z’s Made in America," "Katy Perry: Part of Me" and "Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band." Imagine is currently in production on the Hulu series "Wu-Tang: An American Saga" and on the sixth season of "Empire"; it is also developing a film version of the musical "tick, tick … BOOM!" with Lin-Manuel Miranda directing and a documentary about legendary musician Louis Armstrong.
About National Geographic Partners LLC
National Geographic Partners LLC (NGP), a joint venture between Disney and the National Geographic Society, is committed to bringing the world premium science, adventure and exploration content across an unrivaled portfolio of media assets. NGP combines the global National Geographic television channels (National Geographic Channel, Nat Geo WILD, Nat Geo MUNDO, Nat Geo PEOPLE) with National Geographic’s media and consumer-oriented assets, including National Geographic magazines; National Geographic studios; related digital and social media platforms; books; maps; children’s media; and ancillary activities that include travel, global experiences and events, archival sales, licensing and e-commerce businesses. Furthering knowledge and understanding of our world has been the core purpose of National Geographic for 132 years, and now we are committed to going deeper, pushing boundaries, going further for our consumers … and reaching millions of people around the world in 172 countries and 43 languages every month as we do it. NGP returns 27% of our proceeds to the nonprofit National Geographic Society to fund work in the areas of science, exploration, conservation and education. For more information visit natgeotv.com or nationalgeographic.com, or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and Pinterest.
About Imagine Television Group
Imagine Television Group comprises Imagine Television and Imagine Television Studios. Imagine Television was founded in 1986 by Brian Grazer and Ron Howard and is run by Imagine Television President Samie Kim Falvey. The company’s productions have been honored with 195 Emmy nominations and 30 Golden Globe nominations. Last year, the company formed Imagine Television Studios to produce and finance a slate of projects that currently includes the series "Why Women Kill" for CBS All Access from Marc Cherry; "Swagger" for Apple with Kevin Durant and Reggie Rock Bythewood; "Wu-Tang: An American Saga" for Hulu from The RZA and Alex Tse; and "68 Whiskey." Imagine Television is also producing "Filthy Rich" with Tate Taylor for Fox. Current programming includes Fox’s award-winning series "Empire," Netflix’s "Arrested Development" and Nat Geo’s Emmy-winning GENIUS anthology series. Earlier productions include Fox’s Golden Globe- and Emmy-winning Best Drama Series "24"; NBC’s Peabody Award-winning series "Friday Night Lights"; Fox’s Emmy-winning Best Comedy "Arrested Development"; Fox’s "Shots Fired" and "Lie To Me"; WB’s "Felicity"; ABC’s "SportsNight"; and HBO’s "From the Earth to the Moon," which won the Emmy for Outstanding Mini-Series. Howard and Grazer began their collaboration in 1985 with the hit film comedies "Night Shift" and "Splash," and continue to run Imagine as executive chairmen.
About Fox 21 Television Studios
Fox 21 Television Studios, a division of Disney Television Studios, is devoted to making creatively ambitious scripted and unscripted series for all distribution platforms. Fox 21 Television Studios is responsible for the Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning sensation from Ryan Murphy, Nina Jacobson and Brad Simpson, "The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story" (with FX Productions), as well as its follow-up, "The Assassination of Gianni Versace," which also won the Emmy and the Golden Globe for Outstanding Limited Series; the Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning "Homeland," starring Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin, which enters its eighth and final season this year; the Emmy-winning "Fosse/Verdon" (with FX Productions) from award-winning producers Thomas Kail, Steven Levenson, Joel Fields and Lin-Manuel Miranda and starring Sam Rockwell and Michelle Williams; the blockbuster "Sons of Anarchy" as well as its follow-up, "Mayans M.C." (with FX Productions) from co-creators Kurt Sutter and Elgin James; "Queen of the South," executive produced by David T. Friendly, Dailyn Rodriguez and Benjamin Daniel Lobato; the Emmy-winning "Pose" (with FX Productions) from Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, Nina Jacobson, Brad Simpson, Steven Canals, Janet Mock, Alexis Martin Woodall and Sherry Marsh; the Emmy-nominated GENIUS: EINSTEIN and its follow-up, GENIUS: PICASSO; and "The Politician" from Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan and starring Tony winner Ben Platt and Oscar winners Gwyneth Paltrow and Jessica Lange. Upcoming series include Ryan Murphy’s "Ratched," starring Golden Globe and Emmy winner Sarah Paulson in the title role; "The Old Man" (with FX Productions), starring Academy Award winner Jeff Bridges and six-time Emmy winner John Lithgow; the newest installment of "American Crime Story," titled "American Crime Story: Impeachment" (with FX Productions), starring Sarah Paulson, Beanie Feldstein and Annaleigh Ashford; and the newest installment of GENIUS, titled GENIUS: ARETHA, starring Cynthia Erivo, Courtney B. Vance, Malcolm Barrett and Rebecca Naomi Jones, with Anthony Hemingway tapped as executive producer and producing director the season. Fox 21 Television Studios shows have amassed a collective 120 Emmy nominations and 34 Emmy wins, as well as multiple Golden Globes, Humanitas Prizes and Peabody Awards. Fox 21 Television Studios, ABC Studios and 20th Century Fox Television compose Disney Television Studios, a collection of labels that produces the most award-winning, culture-defining programming across 16 broadcast, cable, digital and international platforms. Its programming now reaches more than a billion people every day across the world — in as many as 180 countries, across six continents, in 30 different languages.
Sage Shah, 310-858-2176, firstname.lastname@example.org
For Fox 21 Television Studios:
Nicole Crawford, 310-369-1044, Nicole.Crawford@fox.com