Cynthia Erivo to Play Aretha Franklin in Third Installment of NatGeo's Genius

Cynthia Erivo cast as Aretha Franklin

NatGeo on Thursday announced that Tony-, Emmy- and Grammy Award winner Cynthia Erivo has been cast as Aretha Franklin in the next installment of its Genius bioseries.

Genius: Aretha marks the first-ever authorized retelling of the Queen of Soul’s life story. The production will feature myriad hits from Franklin’s iconic songbook — including, but not limited to: “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.” In addition to new performances by Erivo, the series will feature archival footage of Franklin as she performs “I Knew You Were Waiting for Me,” “Freeway of Love” and “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks (Topdog/Underdog) will serve as showrunner. She’ll executive-produce alongside Brian Grazer, Ron Howard and music mogul Clive Davis.

“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.”

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

Erivo won the 2016 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for the 2015 revival of The Color Purple. On the big screen, she’ll star as slave-turned-abolitionist Harriet Tubman in the forthcoming biopic Harriet (releasing Friday, Nov. 1).

Genius: Aretha follows previous installments focused on Albert Einstein (played by Geoffrey Rush) and Pablo Picasso (played by Antonio Banderas). Production is set to begin in November for a spring 2020 premiere.

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