Aretha Franklin once famously sang about pink Cadillacs, and on Thursday (March 11th), National Geographic premiered episode one of Genius: Aretha, an eight-part limited series about the life and career of Aretha Franklin at drive-in movie theaters across the United States including in Franklin’s hometown of Detroit.
For those who weren’t able to attend the special screenings at drive-in theaters in New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Detroit, the episode was made available for viewing online. The series was created by Suzan-Lori Parks and produced by Ron Howard and Brian Grazer.
The event kicked off with a pre-show featuring virtual performances from New York’s Apollo Theater as well as video interviews from cast members which include Cynthia Erivo who portrays Franklin, Courtney B. Vance who portrays C.L. Franklin, Antonique Smith who portrays Barbara Franklin, and others. In a video interview, Vance said, “I think the country is at a place now, we’re in a real sense of referendum. People are tired, people are hurting, and that’s you know Aretha would be out there take up the mantle from where John Lewis was. It’s important that’s recognized, that’s who she was, that’s the stalk from which she sprung.” “She knew her calling was a duel calling. She had to entertain the masses but she also was a preacher of the gospel through music. Every song she sang became an anthem for survival, for Black empowerment, for peace. She was such a light to so many people, her music and her message.” Vance added
Cast members also gave taped performances during the pre-show in which Antonique Smith performed “How Great Thou Art,” a capella, and Patrice Covington and Rebecca Naomi Jones who portray Franklin’s sisters Erma and Carolyn Franklin sang “Son of a Preacher Man”. Following the hour-long screening, Erivo herself performed a number of Franklin’s hits including “Don’t Play that Song (You Lied),” “Border Song,” and “You’re All I Need to Get By” from the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles.
Genius: Aretha which is the third season of National Geographic’s Genius series will premiere the first two episodes on March 21st and will air two episodes each night until March 24th.