Aretha Franklin Will Be Nat Geo’s First Female Genius

Move over, Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso. There’s a new Genius in town—and she brings with her a trunk stuffed with fur coats and iconic songs. Nat Geo has revealed that the third subject of its anthology docuseries will center on Aretha Franklin, a.k.a. the Queen of Soul, whose death this past summer prompted a flood of appreciations, fond remembrances, and above all, acknowledgments of her monumental contributions to music.


Deadline reports that the announcement came Sunday at T.C.A.—where it was also revealed that Tony Award-nominated Suzan-Lori Parks, who became the first African-American woman to receive a Pulitzer Prize for drama in 2002 for her play Topdog/Underdog, will serve as executive producer and show-runner for this season. Also on board, as executive producers are longtime Franklin collaborator Clive Davis and Atlantic Records C.E.O. Craig Kallman, as well as Geniusstalwarts Ken Biller, Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Francie Calfo, Gigi Pritzker, Rachel Shane,__ and Sam Sokolow. According to Deadline, the series will examine Franklin’s music and career—her talent, and the impact she had on the world as a civil-rights activist. The project will begin filming this summer and is expected to debut in early 2020.

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National Geographic previously said that Frankenstein author Mary Shelley would be the subject of Genius’s third season, and Deadline reports that Shelley is still being considered for a future installment of the series. (In truth, it’s probably not a terrible idea for the network to let last year’s lackluster Mary Shelley fade from public memory before mining her life for another biographical project.) Thanks to the involvement of Davis, Kallman, and Warner Music Group, Deadline notes that the production will even have access to roughly 80 percent of Franklin’s catalog—including “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You),” “Chain of Fools,” “Don’t Play That Song,” “Since You’ve Been Gone,” and “Baby I Love You.” Expect all of those songs to make an appearance in the project, along with “I Knew You Were Waiting for Me,” “Freeway of Love,” and “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves.”

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Davis, who worked with Franklin for decades and spoke at her funeral, told Deadline, “Aretha and I shared a 40-year friendship, ever since she cooked me dinner to talk about working together to reinvigorate her career. I am forever grateful to have had the opportunity to collaborate with her and her incredible instrument. She was a gift to the world, one that will last for many generations. I am thrilled to be celebrating her genius with Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, and Imagine.”


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