Antonique Smith and Tina Fears also have joined the project as recurring, while Ethan Henry is set to guest star as MLK, Jr. Most of the castings happened just before Genius: Aretha, like every other TV series and movies in production, shut down a week and a half ago over the escalating coronavirus-related health crisis.
Additionally, on what would’ve been Aretha Franklin’s 78th birthday today, March 25, Nat Geo released a new image from the show featuring Erivo as the music legend.
T.I. will play Ken Cunningham, a fashion designer who approaches Aretha about investing in his Harlem-based business. A self-made entrepreneur, also socially conscious, with a “company that fosters self-determination,” Ken is immediately intrigued by Aretha, stunned by her talent, and it isn’t too long until the two become lovers.
Smith will play Barbara Franklin, Pastor CL Franklin’s loving, devoted and always-supportive wife. A woman of great faith, committed to being the exemplary kind of wife described in the Bible, she is in for a crushing revelation when she learns of her husband’s great transgression.
Fears will play Clara Ward, the lead performer with the Clara Ward Singers, a prominent Gospel group, and she tours the revival circuit with CL Franklin, Aretha’s father.
King Jr. (Henry) is a mentee of CL Franklin’s. But as Aretha becomes an extremely famous singer, and a supporter of Dr. King, he finds her to be a more useful associate than her father — and CL Franklin resents having to take a back seat to Aretha.
Billed as the first, definitive and only authorized scripted limited series on Franklin’s life, Genius: Aretha was slated for a spring premiere on National Geographic channels in 172 countries and 43 languages. In light of the production suspension over the coronavirus pandemic, that will be moved to a later time.
Writer Suzan-Lori Parks is executive producer and showrunner of Genius: Aretha, with Clive Davis and Craig Kallman also executive producing. Imagine is partnering with Warner Music Group for the third season, which will again be executive produced by Imagine’s Grazer, Ron Howard. Returning executive producers also include Ken Biller, MWM Studios’ Gigi Pritzker and Rachel Shane, and Sam Sokolow. Diana Son joins as executive producer. Anthony Hemingway directed four episodes.
T.I. appeared opposite Eddie Murphy in the Netflix feature Dolemite Is My Name. His next film, Monster Hunter, in which he stars alongside Mila Jovovich and Ron Pearlman, is set for release by Sony/Screen Gems this fall. His podcast, ExpediTIously, is generating over 1 million downloads per month.
In TV, T.I. stars alongside Cardi B and Chance The Rapper on Netflix’s hit reality competition series Rhythm + Flow, which was just renewed for a second season. He also has popular VH1 reality series T.I. & Tiny: Friends & Family Hustle. T.I. is repped by APA, Brian Sher of Crossover Entertainment and attorney A.J. Brandenstein.
Fears is repped by Gill Talent Group. Henry is repped by Avalon Artists & E85 Artist Management