Virtual marching band competition coincided with the beginning of National Geographic’s eight-episode series “Genius: Aretha” on March 25
BCN Staff – March 28, 2021 — In spotlighting R&B Queen Aretha Franklin’s birthday on March 25 and her current movie biopic, National Geographic announced the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Marching Band as the winner of the “All Hail The Queen: HBCU Band Tribute.”
The UAPB band, known as the Marching Musical Machine of the Mid-South, was awarded the $5,000 grand prize for their virtual performance of one of Franklin’s greatest hits, “Freeway of Love.” The “All Hail The Queen” was hosted by actor and producer Lance Gross, and UABP’s winning performance can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h5X8fIGwAME
The UAPB honor comes on the heels of the debut of all eight episodes of the controversial “Genius: Aretha” series on Hulu and National Geographic, which began on March 21. The band contest was sponsored by National Geographic and Watch The Bands, an online platform that promotes the marching band and dance culture of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
The Watch the Band is a spinoff of Watch The Yard, the university-focused media platform that provides news coverage, videos, photos, fraternity and sorority events, and online conversations centering on college culture at many of the nation’s top HBCUs.
Besides UAPB, other top Black-centric bands that participated in the Watch The Band contest included Alabama A&M University, Alabama State University, and Kentucky State University. Their performances were judged on their musical and visual presentation, creativity, auxiliary and percussion. Genius: Aretha features Emmy, Grammys, and Tony Award-winning actress Cynthia Erivo, who stars as Aretha Franklin in the 8-episode series on National Geographic this week. However, the Detroit-born Queen of Soul’s family has asked her fans to boycott the series, saying they were not involved in the production or casting of the eight-part movie.
According to a March 20 article by the Rolling Stones magazine, the late singer’s granddaughter, Grace Franklin, posted a TikTok of her family protesting the release of the series, which includes Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks. As showrunner of the weeklong series, Lori-Parks has overall creative authority and management responsibility for the National Geographic project.
Production on Genius: Aretha began about two years ago, just months after Aretha Franklin’s 2018 death of pancreatic cancer. At the time, one of her son’s Kecalf Franklin cousins, Sabrina Garrett-Owens, was serving as the estate’s personal representative, the Rolling Stones article reported.
By the time Garrett-Owens had resigned her post, she still had not yet reached an agreement about the family’s involvement in the film. It was around that time that Kecalf said communication ceased between the Genius Aretha crew and his family. When they attempted to reestablish it, he said they were rebuffed, Rolling Stones reported.
Despite blowback from the Franklin family, National Geographic Partners LLC, a joint venture between The Walt Disney Company and the National Geographic Society, has promoted the R&B singer’s biopic on TV, cable, and several multimedia platforms.
Besides the British-born Erivo, judges for the band contest included cast members Patrice Rebecca, Naomi Jones and Malcolm Barrett, choreographer Dondracio Johnson and costume designer Jennifer Bryan. Other cast members include Emmy-winning actor Courtney B. Vance as Aretha’s father, C.L. Franklin; Barrett as Ted White, Franklin’s first husband and business manager; David Cross as legendary music producer Jerry Wexler, who guided Franklin as she developed into a confident singer and commercial success.
Covington and Jones portray Erma and Carolyn Franklin, respectively, as Aretha’s sisters and frequent background singers, who supported and collaborated with their famous sibling; Steven Norfleet in the movie is older brother Cecil Franklin, who stepped in as Aretha’s manager following her divorce from Ted White. Veteran actress Pauletta Washington plays Aretha’s nurturing and loving paternal grandmother, Rachel; Omar J. Dorsey stars as acclaimed gospel artist James Cleveland; Marque Richardson and 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. As noted, Parks is the movie’s showrunner, executive producer and lead writer. Emmy award winner Anthony Hemingway will also executive producer and serve as director.
Legendary hit-record producer Clive Davis and Atlantic Records chairman and CEO Craig Kallman are executive producers, along with Imagine’s Anna Culp.
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