Tamir Wright Data News Weekly Contributor
Aretha Franklin finally earns her R-E-S-P-E-C-T in the form of a televised biography by National Geographic. Titled “Genius: Aretha,” this anthology series has had two previous seasons that focused on the lives of Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso. The show has been dubbed as the ‘first-ever, definitive and only authorized scripted limited series on the life of the Queen of Soul’ according to the network.
The mini-series stars two-time Academy Award-nominated Actress Cynthia Erivo in the role of Aretha Franklin and Courtney B. Vance plays the singer’s father, preacher and activist, Rev. C. L. Franklin. Other important figures in Aretha’s life get their stories fleshed out for the first time on screen in the series.
“I wanted to make sure that I didn’t want to imitate Ms. Clara, but I did want to try to embody as much of her as I could so it would be authentic to those people that would be viewing the performance,” said Actress Tina Fears, who plays the ‘Godmother of Soul’ Clara Ward who was a close friend to Aretha Franklin’s father.
The two toured together and were good friends outside of performing. Ward spent a lot of time in the Franklin household where she played a large role as one of Aretha Franklin’s mentors. Her story is brought to life by Fears, a Los Angeles native, and singer and actress, who has appeared in theatre productions such as “In the Heights,” “Tom Key and Friends,” and as Nina Simone in “Simply Simone: The Music of Nina Simone,” and Michelle Morris in “Dreamgirls” at the Atlanta Lyric Theatre.
Fears shared in an interview that she wants audiences familiar with Aretha Franklin as an iconic artist to get a deeper look inside the life of the Queen of Soul.
“I will definitely be watching the show when it comes out. I grew up with my parents listening to her. I love, love, love her and I’m very excited to see her story. She has been a huge influence in my life, from birth,” said Christina Lewis, a sophomore at Xavier University of Louisiana, who majors in Political Science and shared that singing and writing songs are her hobbies.
Some viewers are more excited to hear the music that will be performed in the series. The episodes will feature songs by Aretha Franklin and others who influenced her style as an artist.
“Music is my life, so I’ll be watching this in the hopes of finding some new songs to add to my playlist on Spotify. I love hearing old songs; they feel different than today’s songs. More often than not older songs have more soul in them,” said Josh Alexander, a musician who is a sophomore at Xavier and a member of the school band.
“Genius: Aretha” is aired at 8 p.m. on March 21, 2021 kicking off a 4-night event on Nat Geo and available to stream on HULU the next day. It is directed by Anthony Hemingway and was created by Pulitzer Prize Winner Suzan Lori-Parks, who also created “United States vs. Billie Holiday” which recently won a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Motion Picture Drama for Singer Andra Day’s performance of Holiday.
“We had wonderful directors. They pushed us because the stakes are so high, but I think it hasn’t really hit me until now that I am really blessed to be in this project with some true goats. I’m just beyond honored and really thrilled,” Fears said.