Cynthia Erivo

Source: Courtesy of Focus Features

Cynthia Erivo

Cynthia Erivo, earning acclaim for her lead role in Harriet this awards season, will play Aretha Franklin in the next instalment of National Geographic’s Genius anthology series.

Production is scheduled to begin in November for a spring 2020 world premiere on National Geographic’s global channels.

National Geographic, Imagine Television Studios and Fox 21 Television Studios said on Thursday (3) the production is the only authorised scripted limited series on the life of the Queen of Soul.

The production will feature many of Franklin’s biggest hits from the Warner Music catalogue, including I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You), Chain Of Fools, Don’t Play That Song, Since You’ve Been Gone, and Baby 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 will also perform songs from Franklin’s catalogue.

“Aretha Franklin has been a source of inspiration for me since I was a little girl,” said Erivo. “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.”

“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,” said Brian Grazer. “Cynthia is the perfect person to portray the profoundly human story behind the genius that is Aretha.”

Franklin’s niece Sabrina Owens 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 broke out in West End and Broadway on The Color Purple and will next be seen in Kasi Lemmons’ Harriet, playing the escaped slave Harriet Tubman who endangered her life when she went back to the South to help others flee on the Underground Railroad. Focus Features opens the film on November 1. Her film credits include Widows, and the upcoming Chaos Walking, Needle In A Timestack, and Rip Van Winkle.

Suzan-Lori Parks is executive producer and showrunner for Genius: Aretha. Imagine is partnering with Warner Music Group for the third season, on which Imagine’s Brian Grazer, Ron Howard and Francie Calfo will serve as executive producers, alongside record producer Clive Davis and Atlantic Records chairman and CEO Craig Kallman, Ken Biller, MWM Studios’ Gigi Pritzker and Rachel Shane, Sam Sokolow, and Diana Son. Imagine’s Anna Culp serves as producer alongside Peter Afterman.