It was a big deal to leave the gospel world and to do pop music

As new eight-part biographical series Genius: Aretha arrives on Disney+, Danielle de Wolfe discovers more from the show’s cast and crew

Known to many as the Queen of Soul, singer Aretha Franklin inspired a generation with the gospel-infused sound of hits like Think and (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.

Releasing her debut single in 1967 following her signing to Atlantic Records, Franklin proceeded to unveil 73 singles that charted on the Billboard Hot 100 – the US equivalent of the UK Singles Chart.

Surprisingly, though, only two tracks ever reached number one.

The first came in the form of Franklin’s renowned 1967 Otis Reading cover Respect. The second, a 1987 duet with George Michael entitled I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me).

And yet, there was a contrasting side to the I Say A Little Prayer singer.

Drawing musical inspiration from her painful family life, as well as endorsing activism alongside her father, Baptist minister C. L. Franklin, the singer helped fuel a number of seminal moments in American history.

It’s a lesser-known side explored as part of new National Geographic series, Genius: Aretha.

Written by The United States vs. Billie Holiday screenwriter Suzan-Lori Parks, Genius: Aretha stars The Outsider and Mr Selfridge actress Cynthia Erivo as Aretha Franklin, alongside Courtney B. Vance as Aretha’s father.

“There are wounds in the lives of these characters that needed to be aired,” says Parks, 58.

Written by Bright Chibuzo

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