(WASHINGTON, D.C. — March 22, 2021) To celebrate Aretha Franklin’s legacy and National Geographic’s GENIUS: ARETHA, National Geographic has partnered with Watch The Bands, an online platform that focuses on preserving and promoting the marching band and dance culture of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, to host “All Hail The Queen: HBCU Band Tribute.”
The virtual competition will feature four HBCU bands that will go head to head and compete for a $5,000 prize by performing some of Aretha Franklin’s greatest hits. “All Hail The Queen” will be hosted by actor and producer Lance Gross, premiering on YouTube on Friday, March 19.
Participants are from four renowned HBCUs, including the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, Alabama A&M University, Alabama State University and Kentucky State University. Their performances will be judged on their musical and visual presentation, creativity, auxiliary and percussion. The winning band will be announced via Nat Geo and Watch The Band/Watch The Yard social platforms on March 25.
This marketing activation also included a screening of GENIUS: ARETHA at 15 colleges across the country on March 18.
GENIUS: ARETHA, airing now through March 24, features Emmy® Award-winning actress Cynthia Erivo who transforms into Aretha Franklin for this 8-episode series, showcasing the lasting impact Aretha Franklin had on music, culture and history. Time hails the show as giving “the Queen of Soul the regal treatment she deserves,” CNN raves, “like the best musical biographies, it enhances an appreciation of Franklin’s life and career, with an ease and grace that makes it look easy.” The Hollywood Reporter praises Erivo’s performance saying, “here is a vocalist who, when performing, appears as if she’s doing exactly what she was put on this earth to do.”
The previously announced cast also includes the Emmy-winning Courtney B. Vance (“The People V. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story”) as Aretha’s father, C.L. Franklin; Malcolm Barrett (“Timeless,” “Preacher”) as Ted White, Franklin’s first husband and business manager; David Cross (“Mr. Show,” “Arrested Development”) as legendary music producer Jerry Wexler, who guided Franklin as she developed into a confident singer and commercial success; Patrice Covington (“The Color Purple”, “Ain’t Misbehavin’”) and Rebecca Naomi Jones (“Oklahoma!,” “The Big Sick”) portray Erma and Carolyn Franklin, respectively, as Aretha’s sisters and frequent background singers, who supported and collaborated with their famous sibling; Steven Norfleet (“Watchmen,” “Dynasty”) as older brother Cecil Franklin, who stepped in as Aretha’s manager following her divorce from Ted White; veteran actress Pauletta Washington (“Beloved,” “She’s Gotta Have It”) as Aretha’s nurturing and loving paternal grandmother, Rachel; Omar J. Dorsey (“Queen Sugar”) as James Cleveland; Marque Richardson (“Dear White People”) as King Curtis, Kimberly Hébert Gregory (“Vice Principals”) as Ruth Bowen; and introducing Shaian Jordan as young Aretha Franklin, aka Little Re.
The series is produced by 20th Television and Imagine Entertainment. Imagine has partnered with Warner Music Entertainment for this third season, which will again be executive produced by Imagine’s Brian Grazer and Ron Howard. Pulitzer Prize recipient, MacArthur “Genius” grant receiver and Tony Award winner Suzan-Lori Parks (“Topdog/Underdog”) is showrunner, executive producer and lead writer. Emmy, Golden Globe and BAFTA TV Award winner Anthony Hemingway (“The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story”) will also executive produce and serve as director.
Legendary hit-record producer Clive Davis and Atlantic Records chairman and CEO Craig Kallman are executive producers. Imagine’s Anna Culp also serves as executive producer, and Peter Afterman is producer. Returning executive producers include Francie Calfo (GENIUS: EINSTEIN, GENIUS: PICASSO, “Empire”), Ken Biller (GENIUS: EINSTEIN, GENIUS: PICASSO), Gigi Pritzker and Rachel Shane (MWM Studios), and Sam Sokolow (EUE/Sokolow).
Watch The Bands is a community preserving and promoting the band and dance culture of historically Black colleges and universities. With viewers from all over the world, Watch The Band has established itself as one of the largest sites focusing on African American college culture. Watch The Yard is a media company revolutionizing the Black college experience, quickly becoming a leading destination for Black news, culture and conversation and empowering the next generation of leaders through celebration of their contributions. Watch The Yard’s international community attracts over one million people across the African diaspora each month.