Cynthia Erivo Is Aretha Franklin in National Geographic Channel's Genius Series

The Color Purple star is a Grammy, Emmy and Tony winning actor

By Chris Harnick Oct 03, 2019 4:58 PMTags
Cynthia Erivo, Aretha FranklinEvan Agostini/Invision/AP/Shutterstock, CNP/AdMedia/SIPA/Shutterstock

Hold on to your Obama inauguration hats because Cynthia Erivo is playing Aretha Franklin in the National Geographic series about the legendary singer.

Erivo, who has won a Grammy, Tony and Emmy for her performance in Broadway's The Color Purple, will begin work on Genius: Aretha in November 2019 with a spring 2020 premiere date. Award-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks is executive producer and showrunner on the limited series that counts Ron Howard and Brian Grazer as executive producers. The Aretha Franklin estate is also on board, making the project first-ever—and definitive—scripted series based the Queen of Soul.

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"Aretha Franklin has been a source of inspiration for me since I was a little girl," Erivo said in a statement. "Her strength, passion and soul are evident in her everlasting legacy, not only as a transcendent artist, but as a humanitarian and civil rights icon. To have the opportunity to bring her legacy to life and show the fullness of her being, her humanity and brilliance, is an honor. What I know and have learned about what my voice, as an artist, can do and the power in it has been highly influenced by Franklin. I feel privileged and excited to be a part of the sharing of her genius."

Genius: Aretha will feature many of Franklin's biggest songs, including "Chain of Fools" and "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)." The series will feature Franklin's performances of "I Knew You Were Waiting for Me," "Freeway of Love" and "Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves." Erivo is also performing many of the songs from Franklin's catalogue. See Erivo take on a Franklin classic above.

"Cynthia Erivo blew me away. Not only is she an incredible and bona fide star, but she is soulful and has tremendous depth as a musical artist," Grazer said in a statement. "Cynthia is the perfect person to portray the profoundly human story behind the genius that is Aretha."

Sabrina Owens, Franklin's niece, said, "For Genius to honor Aretha is a great affirmation of her legacy, and Cynthia Erivo is an extraordinary talent with an amazing voice!"

Erivo has many projects coming up, including the starring role of Harriet Tubman in Harriet, HBO's The Outsider, Chaos Walking, Rip Van Winkle and Needle in a Timestack.

This is the first Genius series to follow a woman. Previous installments focused on Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso.

"The fabulously talented Cynthia Erivo is dream casting to play iconic musical genius Aretha Franklin," Carolyn Bernstein, executive vice president of global scripted content and documentary films for National Geographic, said in a statement. "On the heels of her Tony Award-winning turn in The Color Purple and breakout performance in upcoming feature film Harriet, we can't wait to see Cynthia bring her fierceness to the role as the Queen of Soul."

Franklin's story is also set for the big screen with Erivo's The Color Purple costar Jennifer Hudson in the role.

Genius: Aretha is set for spring 2020.