By Zach Johnson
Cynthia Erivo is ready to earn your R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
National Geographic, with Imagine Television Studios and Fox 21 Television Studios, announced today that the Tony Award®-, Emmy Award®-, and Grammy® Award-winning actress will star as Aretha Franklin in the next installment of the Emmy-winning anthology series Genius: Aretha. This upcoming season will be the first-ever, definitive, and only authorized scripted limited series on the life of the universally acclaimed Queen of Soul. Filming will begin this November for a Spring 2020 premiere on National Geographic channels in 172 countries and 43 languages.
The production will feature many of Franklin’s biggest recordings and hit songs from the comprehensive 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.” In addition, 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, renowned for her role in productions of The Color Purple, will also perform many of the 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.”
Sabrina Owens, the Queen of Soul’s niece, raved, “For Genius to honor Aretha is a great affirmation of her legacy, and Cynthia Erivo is an extraordinary talent with an amazing voice!”
Executive producer Suzan-Lori Parks is the showrunner. Imagine is partnering with Warner Music Group for Genius: Aretha, which will again be executive produced by Imagine’s Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, and Francie Calfo. Record producer Clive Davis and Atlantic Records Chairman and CEO Craig Kallman have also joined as executive producers. Returning executive producers include Ken Biller, Gigi Pritzker, Rachel Shane, and Sam Sokolow. Diana Son joins as an executive producer, and Imagine’s Anna Culp serves as a producer alongside Peter Afterman.
“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. “Cynthia is the perfect person to portray the profoundly human story behind the genius that is Aretha.”
“The fabulously talented Cynthia Erivo is dream casting to play iconic musical genius Aretha Franklin,” added Carolyn Bernstein, executive vice president, global scripted content and documentary films, National Geographic. “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.”