Genius is an Emmy-winning anthology series that dramatizes the fascinating stories of the world’s most brilliant innovators, their extraordinary achievements and with their volatile, passionate and complex personal relationships. This third season, Genius: Aretha, is the first-ever, definitive and only authorized scripted series on the life of Aretha Franklin. The series explores Franklin’s background as a gospel prodigy, a teenage mother, an outspoken civil-rights champion, and her immeasurable impact and lasting influence on American popular music. 

Aretha Franklin is widely regarded as a musical genius whose incomparable career has had an immeasurable impact and lasting influence on music and culture around the world. Raised in Detroit, she was largely a self-taught and gifted pianist and singer, recording many of her earliest tracks at age 14 at her father’s church. Aretha eventually moved to New York where she produced many hits, including “Chain of Fools” and “Never Loved a Man.” From her crowning as the “Queen of Soul” in 1967 to her record-breaking gospel record “Amazing Grace” to her involvement and support of the Civil Rights movement, Aretha Franklin remained a groundbreaking artist.

Throughout her life, Aretha shouldered family misfortune and balanced professional demands all while managing her public image. She died in 2018 leaving behind a legacy which includes 18 Grammy Awards, the National Medal of the Arts, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom as well as the honor of first female performer inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Grammy Award winner Franklin was a gospel prodigy, an outspoken civil rights champion and widely considered to be the greatest singer of the past 50 years, receiving countless honours throughout her career. Franklin is portrayed by the triple threat Tony-, Emmy- and Grammy Award-winning Cynthia Erivo (“Harriet, “The Color Purple”), and Emmy-winning Courtney B. Vance plays Aretha’s father, CL Franklin.


It’s a story that’s been told many times, yet never enough. A rags-to-riches tale of a troubled soul that was determined to make something of themselves, despite many odds against them. Aretha Franklin was born poor, had a troubled youth, and gave unplanned birth to her first child as a teenager, but still managed to rise above and become one of the greatest entertainers in recent pop history.

As her career was taking off, she remained focused on civil rights for all, and had a very close family and personal relationship with Martin Luther King, which unfortunately was cut short due to his murder. They became known as Dr. King and the Queen of Soul. One of her most famous quotes in the series is, “How can I help? How can I be of service?” The rising civil rights movement of the 1960s became a focal point for her music, and she continued to hit the streets with protesters as her career was escalating. Another inspiration to her was Sam Cooke, whom after seeing him in concert, he gave her his coat that she later wore on stage during her performances.

Her biggest moment of her career was to be featured on the cover of Time Magazine, however that turned soured when the reporter writing the feature gained her trust to enter her home and meet her family, then turned the interview into a scathing negative piece. Despite this, she still retains the honour of having been the first woman of colour to be on the cover of that magazine. A wonderful series that tells the story of an amazing woman that continues to be as relevant today as it was a half century ago.

Every year since 1968, February 16th is marked as Aretha Franklin Day in Detroit.

Genius: Aretha premieres Sunday, March 21st with back-to-back episodes beginning at 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. ET/PT on National Geographic. Subsequent episodes air one per week Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT.

Episode Descriptions:


Desperate for a hit, Aretha (Cynthia Erivo) travels to Muscle Shoals to record her first album with Atlantic Records, and, after suffering the loss of her surrogate mother, Little Re (Shaian Jordan) braves her first solo in her father, CL Franklin’s (Courtney B. Vance) church.


Four years before Muscle Shoals, Aretha (Cynthia Erivo) struggles to find her sound and what she hopes will be a break-out performance on the Steve Allen show just fizzles. She manages to catch the attention of Jerry Wexler (David Cross) at Atlantic Records. Little Re (Shaian Jordan) has her first touring experience on the Gospel Circuit with CL Franklin (Courtney B. Vance), and meets her idol, Clara Ward (Tina Fears).


Aretha (Cynthia Erivo) juggles her music career and her commitment to the civil rights movement, led by Martin Luther King, Jr. (Ethan Henry). Little Re (Shaian Jordan) leaves behind her newborn child to return to the Gospel Circuit, meeting music legends James Cleveland (Omar Dorsey) and Little Sammie Bryant.


Aretha (Cynthia Erivo) is featured on the cover of Time Magazine but she is devastated when the article focuses on the scandalous details of her personal life. Barbara Franklin (Antonique Smith) and Young CL Franklin (Edwin Hodge) struggle to establish themselves in Memphis the year before Little Re is born.


Aretha (Cynthia Erivo), inspired by Angela Davis and the Soledad Brothers, records her protest album “Young, Gifted and Black.” Despite Jerry Wexler’s (David Cross) uncertainty, the album is a success. Barbara Franklin (Antonique Smith) makes a decision that has a devastating effect on Little Re (Shaian Jordan).


Aretha (Cynthia Erivo) records her best-selling live Gospel album “Amazing Grace” in James Cleveland’s (Afemo Omilami) church, ignoring her siblings’ pleas to record instead at New Bethel with their father, CL Franklin (Courtney B. Vance.) Little Re (Shaian Jordan) discovers she is pregnant with her second child, forcing her to leave school. While pregnant, she records her first album at New Bethel.


As the Queen of Soul enters the age of disco, Aretha (Cynthia Erivo) will do anything to remain relevant – including stealing an opportunity from her sister, Carolyn (Rebecca Naomi Jones). After being snubbed at the Grammys she pursues an acting career with mixed results. She parts ways with Jerry Wexler (David Cross) and meets Arista founder Clive Davis (Christopher Redman).


Season Finale. Despite significant emotional losses including a second divorce and the death of her father, Aretha (Cynthia Erivo) pushes herself artistically and triumphs. She begins a successful career at Arista with the help of Clive Davis. In an unforgettable Grammy performance she solidifies her eternal reign as the Queen of Soul.

About the Author

Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist with a focus on travel, lifestyle, entertainment and hospitality. He has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He enjoys discovering delicious eats, tasting spirited treats, and being mesmerized by musical beats.