Courtney B. Vance to Play Aretha Franklin's Father in 'Genius'

The Emmy winner ('The People v. O.J. Simpson') will star opposite Cynthia Erivo in the National Geographic anthology's third season.
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Courtney B. Vance

National Geographic has cast another award-winning actor in Genius: Aretha, chronicling the life of the late Aretha Franklin.

Emmy winner Courtney B. Vance (The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story) will star opposite Grammy and Tony winner Cynthia Erivo in the third season of the anthology series. He will play Aretha's father, C.L. Franklin, an influential minister and civil rights activist — and a star in his own right.

Genius: Aretha will mark a reunion between Vance and People v. O.J. Simpson director Anthony Hemingway, who is an executive producer and producing director on the series. Nat Geo is billing Genius: Aretha as the definitive, authorized account of the Queen of Soul's life and career. 

"It’s an honor to join the Genius: Aretha team, and to bring to life the magnificent story of the Queen of Soul, an amazing woman who my wife, Angela, and I loved dearly,” Vance said Thursday in a statement. "Aretha’s father, C.L. Franklin, had a profound impact on her trajectory from a girl in a gospel choir to a global phenomenon — both in a good way and a bad way. I’m eager to dive into his story, and to have the tremendous opportunity to work with the undeniable talents of [showrunner] Suzan-Lori Parks and Cynthia Erivo. And I’m always excited to work with Anthony Hemingway."

C.L. Franklin was pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit and was known as the "Million Dollar Voice." His sermons were published and sold in record stores and broadcast on a weekly radio show, and he also booked national ministry tours and public appearances. He had a fraught relationship with Aretha but supported her throughout her career, notably when she made the decision to turn from gospel to secular pop music.

"Courtney B. Vance is an actor whose work I’ve admired for so long,” said Parks (Topdog/Underdog). “To have him bring his award-winning talents to the role of C.L. Franklin, a man of great conviction who also had many flaws, is a beautiful dream come true."

The cast for Genius: Aretha also includes Malcolm Barrett (Timeless), Patrice Covington (The Color Purple on Broadway), Kimberly Hébert Gregory (Vice Principals), Rebecca Naomi Jones (The Big Sick) and Sanai Victoria (No Good Nick).

Along with Parks and Hemingway, executive producers are Brian Grazer; Ron Howard; Francie Calfo; Clive Davis; Atlantic Records CEO Craig Kallman; Ken Biller; Gigi Pritzker and Rachel Shane of MWM Studios; Sam Sokolow; and Diana Son. Imagine TV and Fox 21 TV Studios are producing the series.

Vance is repped by WME and Fox Rothschild.