Cynthia Erivo Cast in ‘Genius: Aretha’

National Geographic has found its Aretha Franklin for its upcoming season of “Genius” about the Queen of Soul: Cynthia Erivo has been cast in the title role.

Photo by Kimberley French / Fox

Photo by Kimberley French / Fox

“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.”

The upcoming season, entitled “Genius: Aretha,” will be the first-ever, definitive and only authorized scripted limited series centered on the life of titular Grammy Award winner and musical icon. The series will include many of Franklin’s biggest recordings 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.” Additionally, 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 be performing many of these songs.

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

A Tony, Emmy and Grammy Award-winning actress, Erivo will be seen on the big screen in “Harriet” next month. Other upcoming projects include HBO’s “The Outsider,” based on the Stephen King novel of the same name; Doug Liman’s “Chaos Walking”; John Ridley’s “Needle in a Timestack”; and Warner Bros. musical take on “Rip Van Winkle,” which she is also executive producing. Previously, she appeared on the West End and Broadway stages in “The Color Purple.”

Erivo is repped by United Talent Agency, ID, Authentic Talent & Literary Management and Pekioff Mahan.

The “Genius” anthology series dramatizes stories of brilliant innovators, exploring their achievements, as well as their passionate and complex personal relationships. The premiere installment centered on Albert Einstein, while the second followed Pablo Picasso. “Genius: Aretha” is the first foray for the series into a legendary woman. Franklin was a gospel prodigy and outspoken civil rights champion and is widely considered to be the greatest singer of the past 50 years, receiving countless honors throughout her career.

“Genius: Aretha” will be showrun by Suzan-Lori Parks, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of “Topdog/Underdog.” It is executive produced by Imagine’s Grazer, Ron Howard and Francie Calfo, as well as returning executive producers from previous installments Ken Biller, MWM Studios’ Gigi Pritzker and Rachel Shane, and EUE/Sokolow’s Sam Sokolow. This third season, Imagine is partnering with Warner Music Group, so Clive Davis and Atlantic Records chairman and CEO Craig Kallman have also joined as executive producers. Diana Son also joins as executive producer, while Imagine’s Anna Culp serves as producer alongside Peter Afterman.

“Genius: Aretha” will begin production next month for a spring 2020 premiere on National Geographic.

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