GENIUS: ARETHA [National Geographic Channel]

Genius: Aretha consists of eight episodes that capture the life of Aretha Franklin. The series follows Franklin, played by Cynthia Erivo, from her early days in Detroit to global stardom with plenty of problems and drama to overcome along the way.

Diane was surprised to learn that Aretha Franklin gave birth to her first child at age 12. Franklin’s father was a charismatic preacher who travelled the country–and had relationships with many women other than his wife. Aretha Franklin’s father grooms young Aretha (played by Shaian Jordan) an early age to sing during his church events. But Aretha wants to be more than a gospel singer.

Cynthia Erivo delivers a terrific performance as Aretha Franklin, both acting and singing. Courtney B. Vance as Aretha’s father, C.L. Franklin, captures the complexity and talent of the preacher. I really liked David Cross as record producer Jerry Wexler who saves Aretha Franklin’s career.

I have been a Aretha Franklin fan since the 1960s. When I first heard “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” I was completely blown away. Of course, Aretha Franklin produced 20 Number One hits and was the first woman to be inducted into The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. If you’re a fan of Aretha Franklin, you’ll love this series! Even if you’re a casual Aretha Franklin fan, Genius: Aretha has plenty to keep you entertained. GRADE: A

26 thoughts on “GENIUS: ARETHA [National Geographic Channel]

  1. Michael Padgett

    I’m a big fan of Aretha Franklin and am definitely planning to watch this on Hulu soon. Erivo is relatively new to me but I was really impressed with her performance as Harriet Tubman in HARRIET and in the HBO series THE OUTSIDER.

    1. george Post author

      Michael, like you I was impressed by Cynthia Erivo’s performance in HARRIET. She’s very convincing as Aretha Franklin. And, she sure can sing!

      1. Steve Oerkfitz

        I first saw her in the underrated film Bad Times at the El Royale. Didn’t much care for Harriet. Not because of her performance though. I spent a couple of years as a merchandise manager at the Bloomfield Hills Michigan Barnes and Noble where she was a customer. Not a pleasant experience.

      2. george Post author

        Steve, good to know about the unpleasant experiences at the Bloomfield Hills Barnes & Noble (of course, sorry about your discomfort). It’s good to know how people “really” are rather than the image they project.

  2. Deb

    I love Aretha, and it has always bothered me that she had two children by the time she was 15 and at no point was any man called to account. I can’t help but speculate on how broken and dysfunctional her home life probably was.

  3. Jeff Meyerson

    Yeah, there were even rumors that Daddy was responsible, but that at least wasn’t true. They named a “classmate” as the father of the first baby and a second guy as the father of the second, though Wikipedia says (based on Aretha’s handwritten will) that the second guy – Edward Jordan – was actually the father of both children. Who was he? But watching Shaian Jordan as the 12 year old Aretha (we’ve watched the first half so far), you can’t help but be repulsed. This was a child! Erivo does a fine job. You’d never know she was British. Watching the scenes of John Hammond trying to find the right “fit” for her – she recorded TEN albums in six years at Columbia, with almost no success – you can’t help but appreciate the job that Jerry Wexler did once he got her at Atlantic. Other things I didn’t know: it wasn’t just a slur because he was a brutal bully, her first husband really was a pimp! Daddy took her on the road but spent his nights partying with women rather than paying any attention to what his child was doing, with bad results.

    Her sister Carolyn died of breast cancer in 1988, her brother Cecil (her manager after she fired her husband Ted White) of lung cancer in 1989, her older sister Erma of throat cancer in 2002, Aretha herself of pancreatic cancer in 2018.

    1. george Post author

      Jeff, yes…the smoking is pretty much constant in GENIUS: ARETHA. And Aretha’s first husband actually calls himself a pimp in one scene. I was interested in the failures of John Hammond–a very successful producer–to find the right sound for Aretha. Hammond tried to convince Aretha she was a jazz singer. Jerry Wexler saved Aretha’s career, but there were plenty of bumps in the road.

    1. george Post author

      Rick, I have been listening to some of my Aretha Franklin CDs. But this docudrama is a first-rate production despite all the hardships.

  4. maggie mason

    I really enjoyed this. I thought Erivo did a great job, but I also enjoyed the few times they showed Aretha on the screen. A friend of mine looked up on Wiki about her history and pimp husband, which I knew nothing about. I knew she had children young, but was shocked it was at 12. I thought she treated her sister so badly, but was glad the sister forgave her and kept the family intact.

    about 2/3 the way thru, I thought her brother was the best man in her life. The man who replaced the pimp was nice, but they didn’t show much of the relationship, other than him standing up to her about her treatment of her sister. I vaguely remember seeing Glen Turman in some movie, but didn’t remember their relationship. I’m always amazed at how many kids interrupt their lives to care for parents who were not caring for them.

    I just watched Tina last night, and enjoyed that as well.

    1. Jeff Meyerson

      Glynn Turman was the Mayor in THE WIRE. We both found the constant back and forth between 1967-68 and 1954-55, then throwing in 1941-42 annoying after a while.

  5. wolf

    Can’t comment on the movie, these aren’t shown in Europe – a pity.
    But I became a big fan of hers listening on AFN – just like many other coloured artists (Ray Charles etc).
    Atlantic Records (Ertegun and Wexler) was my favourite company anyway.
    A bit OT:
    I found it interesting that so many young Jewish song writers and record producers connected with those coloured artists in the still at least partly racist USA.

      1. Todd Mason

        And “colored” isn’t a term much in use any longer these years, even if Person of Color can be used politely (to refer to anyone who isn’t a pale Caucasian). African-American and black (or Black) are still usually not considered outmoded.

  6. Cap'n Bob Napier

    She did some songs I love (Say a Little Prayer), and a lot I hated! As she got more successful she added more eeks and screams to her music, which turned me off! She was great in The Blues Brothers!

    1. wolf

      Blues Brothers is one of my favourite movies – and SNL my favourite tv show!
      Though it took a long long time for it to be available in Europe.

    2. Todd Mason

      The first hit version of “Say a Little Prayer” was Dionne Warwick’s, though…Franklin did a version as well….hers was the only song on THE BLUES BROTHERS soundtrack recorded live on stage, apparently…she was reportedly never very good at lip-synching.

  7. Todd Mason

    Well, she is a jazz singer at times, but not primarily. And some of her Columbia work was fine and better than fine, and some of it in the same mode as her most famous Atlantic records. “Soulville” and “Take It Like You Give It” are as good as any of her later recordings….and her performances on the STEVE ALLEN SHOW syndicated by Westinghouse were house-rockers, (“Won’t Be Long”)

    My mother saw her on tour, early in her career, opening for Joe Turner (“Shake, Rattle and Roll” and also a blues/rock crossover artist).

    Rest in glory.

    1. george Post author

      Todd, I wish I’d seen Aretha Franklin (and a lot of great performers) in a live performance. I had opportunities to attend concerts, but somehow didn’t act on them.


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