Cynthia Erivo charms us often with snippets of her remarkable vocal ability on Instagram, so you can imagine our excitement when we learnt we’re ever closer to seeing her depict soul legend Aretha Franklin in an upcoming TV series.

Cynthia Erivo
Cynthia Erivo for InStyle Magazine: Photographed by Joshua Kissi

The Tony, Emmy and Grammy decorated actress will portray musical icon Aretha in the next installment of the Emmy-winning anthology series Genius.

After having to press pause on filming, production of the National Geographic show restarted on 1 October under COVID-safe measures. A date for the premiere of the eight-part Genius: Aretha hasn’t been announced, but we expect it to be out before the end of the year.

In a recent interview with InStyle magazine, the Harriet star said: “She just lived truly, fully…I do think there has to be a point where we stop being afraid of seeing Black people be Black. And people are afraid when it’s on display proudly. I don’t know how to hide my Blackness, so I live in it as it is. I really love it.”

Genius dramatises fascinating stories of the world’s most gifted innovators and the Aretha edition was originally planned to debut this spring.

The production will feature many of Aretha’s biggest recordings and hit songs from the comprehensive Warner Music catalogue, including I Never Loved a Man, Since You’ve Been Gone and Baby, I Love You.

Viewers can also expect to see Aretha’s performances of I Knew You Were Waiting for Me, Freeway of Love and Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves.

Cynthia will also perform many of the songs from Aretha’s rich catalogue. Speaking of the gospel singer’s four-octave range, Cynthia said: “She just naturally had a really open sound, and so volume wasn’t the thing she would use; it was just depth…She used her voice like a violin.”

“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.”

The legendary singer is one of the world’s best-selling musical artists of all time, with more than 75 million records sold globally during her career. She died in 2018, aged 76, of pancreatic cancer.

Without knowing how to read music, Aretha taught herself to play the piano at 12 years old and began to record songs and sing on gospel tours with her dad Clarence LaVaughn Franklin. He was a Baptist church minister and civil rights activist, and saw his daughter sign her first record deal at 18.

In 1979 she began a 40-year friendship and partnership with music industry executive Clive Davis, which produced a number of hit songs, including the highest charting and best-selling song of her career, I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me), with George Michael.  Clive Davis is also one of the executive producers for Genius.

Cythia Erivo
Cynthia Erivo as Aretha Franklin in National Geographic’s GENIUS: ARETHA. (National Geographic/Richard DuCree)

“Aretha Franklin has been a source of inspiration for me since I was a little girl,” Cynthia said when the show was announced in October of last year.

“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.”


Read the full article in October’s issue of InStyle magazine here.

Photographs by Joshua Kissi. Styling by Jason Bolden. Hair by Coree Moreno. Makeup by Terrell Mullin. Production by Kelsey Stevens Productions.

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