When Cynthia Erivo Met Aretha Franklin: How the Queen of Soul Shocked the Tony Winner

Cynthia Erivo is prepping to play Aretha Franklin in the new Genius series for National Geographic.

By Chris Harnick, Spencer Lubitz Nov 09, 2019 2:00 PMTags
Watch: Cynthia Erivo Talks Prepping For "Harriet" & Her Hero

Cynthia Erivo is in the midst of a moment.

The Tony, Emmy and Grammy winner (yep, she's just an Oscar away from EGOT) is headlining Harriet, the Harriet Tubman biopic, and co-wrote the lead song from the movie "Stand Up." She's got a number of other projects in the works, including a very high-profile TV role: Aretha Franklin. Erivo is playing the Queen of Soul in Genius: Aretha, the National Geographic Channel miniseries sanctioned by the singer's estate. And to prepare, Erivo, who has professed her love for Franklin and performed in tributes for the late singer, is doing all kinds of research.

Stars Playing Real People

"She has interviews, which I am just starting to discover, because you have to really search for them, interviews when she was younger because there is a really wonderful cadence she has when she speaks," Erivo told E! News at the 23rd annual Hollywood Film Awards. "I am re-listening to all of her music because I want to learn her voice, and just reading because there are some amazing books on her."

Another piece of research includes Amazing Grace, the documentary concert film that was released after Franklin's death. Franklin previously sued to prevent the movie from coming out. Amazing Grace was filmed in 1972 as Franklin recorded her gospel album of the same name, but never released due to audio and visual difficulties. "Everyone should watch it," Erivo said. "It's a beautiful documentary, concert, it's a really wonderful look at who she was."

Erivo met Franklin, and their first encounter left her gobsmacked, she said.

"She had seen The Color Purple, and when I went downstairs, she sang the line from The Color Purple back to me," Erivo remembered. "That definitely shocked me!"

Franklin's music will be included in Genius, and Erivo will be singing some of it. She told us her favorite Franklin tune to sing is "Ain't No Way" and she loves to sing "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)."

"There is just something sexy," she said about "I Never Loved a Man." "There is attitude in it, and I love singing that song and I tend to do that at concerts because it gets people going a bit."

See how she gets people going in Genius: Aretha when it premieres in spring 2020. Production is set to begin in November 2019. When the project was announced, Franklin's niece praised Erivo's casting.

"For Genius to honor Aretha is a great affirmation of her legacy, and Cynthia Erivo is an extraordinary talent with an amazing voice!" Sabrina Owens said in a statement.