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Anthology series explores Aretha Franklin

National Geographic’s latest season of its anthology series, “Genius: Aretha,” will explore the gospel roots and faith of music legend Aretha Franklin.

The series, which airs next month, stars Oscar-nominee Cynthia Erivo, who portrays the queen of soul.

The Emmy-winning anthology series dramatizes the stories of the world’s most

“brilliant innovators, their extraordinary achievements and their volatile, passionate and complex personal relationships,” the network says. 

The third season of the limited series will premiere with back-to-back episodes over four consecutive nights, starting on March 21. 

“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,” the series will follow her life as detailed in her bio. 

The cast of “Genius: Aretha” includes: Tony, Emmy and Grammy Award-winning Erivo (“Harriet,” “The Color Purple”), as well as Emmy-winning Courtney B. Vance (“The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story”) as Aretha’s father, C.L. Franklin; Malcolm Barrett (“Preacher”) as Ted White, Franklin’s first husband and business manager; David Cross (“Arrested Development”) as legendary music producer Jerry Wexler, Patrice Covington (“The Color Purple”) and Rebecca Naomi Jones (“Oklahoma!”).

Others listed were Steven Norfleet, Pauletta Washington, Omar J. Dorsey, Marque Richardson, Kimberly HébertGregory and newcomer Shaian Jordan who portrays a young Franklin.

Born in Memphis, Tennessee, on March 25, 1942, Franklin’s father, Clarence LaVaughn “C. L.” Franklin, was a preacher at Detroit’s New Bethel Baptist Church.

She was a child prodigy and by age 10, she was already performing in church.

“They put a small box in front of the pulpit so I can be seen over the pulpit and that’s where I would stand and sing,” Franklin said in a past interview that was rebroadcast on MSNBC.

Franklin released her first gospel album at age 14. Managed by her father and signed to J.V.B. Records, her debut album, Songs of Faith, was released in 1956.

At that time, she was already a mother of two, giving birth to her first son, Clarence, when she was only 12, and her second son, Edward, two years later.

In 1964 and 1970, she gave birth to two more sons, Teddy Richards and Kecalf Cunningham.

“Genius: Aretha” will highlight much of this journey.

The episode “Amazing Grace,” which will air on March 23, will also focus on Franklin’s live Gospel album Amazing Grace, which was recorded in 1972 at New Temple Missionary Baptist Church.

Erivo will be performing many songs from Franklin’s comprehensive Warner Music catalog, including, “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You),” “Chain of Fools,” “Don’t Play That Song” and “Save Me” to name a few.  

Produced by 20th Television and Imagine Entertainment, Imagine has partnered with Warner Music Entertainment for this third season of the anthology series, which is again executive produced by Imagine’s Brian Grazer and Ron Howard.

The series was executive produced and written by award-winning Suzan-Lori Parks (“Topdog/Underdog”) and directed by Anthony Hemingway (“The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story”).

For additional information on the series, visit natgeotv.com. Episodes will also be available on Hulu following each televised broadcast.

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