From the extravagant, digital, 12-page invitation, down to the last seconds of Cynthia Erivo’s live performance following the virtual world premiere of Genius: Aretha, you could tell history was being made for fans and viewers alike. National Geographic’s Genius: Aretha world premiere exceeded expectations as it pulled out all the stops and set the bar for all virtual world premiere’s to come.
The virtual world premiere was held on March 11 for online guests and media. From the pre-show entertainment by executive producer and showrunner Suzan-Lori Parks who performed spoken word to the musical performances by trumpeter Marquis Hill, Bill Moss Jr.’s Detroit Youth All-Star Choir and c-Live AfroPunk artists from the Clive Davis Institute at Tisch School of the Arts/NYU, the show was filled with gems hours before the first episode aired. The pre-show also included special cast appearances by Courtney B. Vance (C.L. Franklin), Patrice Covington (Erma Franklin) and Rebecca Naomi Jones (Carolyn Franklin) who sang a powerful rendition of Aretha’s ‘Son of a Preacher Man’ and Antonique Smith (Barbara Smith) who belted out an a capella version of ‘How Great Thou Art’. The pre-show ended with executive producer Brian Grazer sharing kind words ahead of the two-episode screening.
The first two episodes gave viewers a glimpse into Aretha’s early career at Atlantic Records, her childhood years of being on the road with her revered father, C.L. Franklin as well as a look into her first marriage to Ted White, whom she met as a very young adolescent pre-teen at one of her father’s infamous parties. Cynthia Erivo, who effortlessly played the Queen of Soul was introduced to the world as Aretha, and gave a breathtaking performance as she embodied the essence, mannerisms and voice of the Queen. Five minutes into the first episode, Erivo became the Queen.
By the end of the world-premiere event, viewers were itching for more. The virtual event ended with an exclusive performance by Cynthia Erivo, live from the Greek Theater in Los Angeles. During the performance, she elegantly sang a beautiful set of Aretha classics from “Don’t Play that Song (You Lied), to “You’re All I Need to Get By”.
The eight-episode series will kick-off on NatGeo March 21, and will air two episodes nightly through March 24. Episodes will be available on Hulu thereafter.
This is NatGeo’s third installment of the Genius series, which has previously featured Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso.