National Geographic, with Imagine Television Studios and Fox 21 Television Studios, has announced that the cast joining previously announced Cynthia Erivo (“Harriet,” Broadway’s “The Color Purple“) as Aretha Franklin in the next installment of the Emmy-winning global anthology series GENIUS: ARETHA. Malcolm Barrett (“Timeless, Preacher”), Patrice Covington (Broadway’s “The Color Purple“), Kimberly Hébert Gregory(“Vice Principals”), Rebecca Naomi Jones (“The Big Sick”)and Sanai Victoria (“Black-ish”) will star in the eight-episode global limited series. Additionally, Anthony Hemingway (“Power,” “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story“) is tapped to serve as executive producer and direct the pilot episode of the upcoming season, the first-ever, definitive and only authorized scripted limited series on the life of the universally acclaimed Queen of Soul.
Barrett joins as Ted White, Aretha’s first husband and business manager, who develops relationships with songwriters and producers and picks some of her biggest hits. But as Aretha gains fame, White’s heavy drinking and volatile behavior ends their marriage. Covington and Jones will portray Erma and Carolyn Franklin, respectively, Aretha’s sisters,who are both talented performers in their own right and sing backup for Aretha. Hébert Gregory will play Ruth Bowen, a pioneer in her field, the head of a successful black-owned agency, who represents Aretha, booking her into world-class venues and getting her onto the covers of Time and Ebony magazines. Victoria will be Little Re (young Aretha), the shy, immensely talented daughter of celebrated Detroit preacher Clarence LaVaughn (C.L.) Franklin, who thrusts her into the spotlight at a very young age.
Prolific producer and director Hemingway will serve as an executive producer and direct the pilot episode of GENIUS: ARETHA. Hemingway directed and executive produced “Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G.,” “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” and “Underground.” His long list of credits include “The Wire,” “Treme,” “Battlestar Galactica,” “Power,” “Empire,” “ER,” “The Newsroom,” “Orange Is the New Black,” “American Horror Story” and “Shameless,” as well as his feature film debut, “Red Tails.” Hemingway received the 2017 AAFCA Horizon Award and has garnered Emmy, Golden Globe, PGA, NAACP and BAFTA TV Awards for his work on “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.”
Filming will start this December for a spring 2020 premiere on National Geographic channels in 172 countries and 43 languages.
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 the anthology series will explore Franklin’s musical genius and incomparable career, as well as the immeasurable impact and lasting influence she has had on music and culture around the world. Grammy Award winner Franklin was a gospel prodigy and outspoken civil rights champion and is widely considered to be the greatest singer of the past 50 years, receiving countless honors throughout her career.
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, including the highest charting and bestselling song of her career, “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me),” a duet with George Michael. The legendary singer is one of the world’s bestselling musical artists of all time, with more than 75 million records sold globally during her career. Her voice was identified as a “natural resource” by her home state of Michigan.
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Suzan-Lori Parks, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of “Topdog/Underdog,” is executive producer and showrunner for GENIUS: ARETHA. Imagine is partnering with Warner Music Group for this third season, which will again be executive produced by Imagine’s Brian Grazer and Ron Howard. Legendary hit record producer Clive Davis and Atlantic Records Chairman and CEO Craig Kallman have also joined as executive producers. Returning executive producers include Francie Calfo (Genius, “Empire”), Ken Biller (Genius: Einstein, Genius: Picasso), Gigi Pritzker and Rachel Shane (MWM Studios), and Sam Sokolow (Nice Media Studios). Diana Son joins as executive producer. In addition, Imagine’s Anna Culp serves as producer alongside Peter Afterman.
National Geographic, the company behind the recent Oscar-winning and seven Emmy-winning FREE SOLO, in 2017 premiered the first season of GENIUS, which 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, and 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 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.
Hemingway is represented by WME, Gotham Group, and Hansen, Jacobson, Teller, Hoberman, Newman, Warren, Richman, Rush & Kaller. Barrett is repped by Management 360 and Gersh. Covington is repped by Luber Roklin Entertainment, Allegory Creative Talent and Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz. Hébert Gregory is repped by 11:11 Entertainment and Buchwald and John Meigs at HGTH. Jones is repped by Nina Shreiber and Gersh. Victoria is repped by Abrams Artists Agency and Platform Public Relations.
National Geographic Partners LLC (NGP), a joint venture between National Geographic and 21st Century Fox, 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 131 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 percent of our proceeds to the nonprofit National Geographic Society to fund work in the areas of science, exploration, conservation and education.
Imagine Television Group is comprised of Imagine Television and Imagine Television Studios. Imagine Television was founded in 1986 by Brian Grazer and Ron Howard and is run by Imagine Television Group Chairman, Francie Calfo and 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, also co-run by Calfo and Falvey, to produce and finance a slate projects which currently includes the series “Why Women Kill” for CBS All Access from Marc Cherry; “Swagger” for Apple from 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 NatGeo’s Emmy® award-winning “Genius” anthology series. Earlier productions include Fox’s Golden Globe and Emmy® award-winning Best Drama Series “24”; NBC’s Peabody Award winning series “Friday Night Lights”; Fox’s Emmy® award-winning Best Comedy “Arrested Development“; Fox’s “Shots Fired”; Fox’s “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 Brian Grazer began their collaboration in 1985 with the hit film comedies “Night Shift” and “Splash”, and continue to run Imagine is Executive Chairmen. .
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 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-nominated “Fosse/Verdon” from award-winning producers Thomas Kail, Steven Levenson, Joel Fields and Lin-Manuel Miranda and starring Oscar winner Sam Rockwell and Golden Globe winner Michelle Williams; the blockbuster “Sons of Anarchy” as well as its follow-up “Mayans M.C.” 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 and Golden Globe-nominated “Pose” from Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, Nina Jacobson, Brad Simpson, Steven Canals, Janet Mock, Alexis Martin Woodall and Sherry Marsh; “The Hot Zone” based on Richard Preston’s international best-seller for Nat Geo starring Emmy winner Juliana Margulies; and the Emmy-nominated “Genius: Einstein” and its follow-up “Genius: Picasso.” Upcoming series include “The Politician” from Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan and starring Tony-winner Ben Platt and Oscar winners Gwyneth Paltrow and Jessica Lange, Ryan Murphy’s “Ratched” starring Golden Globe and Emmy winner Sarah Paulson in the title role, “The Old Man” starring Academy Award winning Jeff Bridges and six-time Emmy winner John Lithgow, as well as the newest installment of “American Crime Story” entitled “American Crime Story: Impeachment” starring Sarah Paulson, Beanie Feldstein and Annaleigh Ashford. Fox 21 Television Studios shows have amassed a collective 120 Emmy nominations and 32 Emmy wins, as well as multiple Golden Globes, Humanitas Prizes, and Peabody Awards. Fox 21 Television Studios, ABC Studios, and 20thCentury Fox Television comprise Disney Television Studios, a collection of labels that produces the most award-winning, culture-defining programming across 16 broadcast, cable, digital and international platforms. It’s 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.
For more information visit www.natgeotv.com
Photo credit: Aretha Franklin still from documentary.