HomeSectionsEntertainmentCynthia Erivo Plays Queen Of Soul Aretha Franklin In Nat Geo's 'Genius'...

Cynthia Erivo Plays Queen Of Soul Aretha Franklin In Nat Geo’s ‘Genius’ Anthology

By Ryan Berenz

After exploring Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso in its first two installments, National Geographic’s Genius series presents the transcendent life, career and music of Aretha Franklin over a four-night, eight-episode third season.

Franklin sang gospel songs in her father’s church in Detroit in the 1950s, then blossomed into a pop singer in the 1960s. By the end of the decade, she was crowned “Queen of Soul,” and she would go on to leave an indelible legacy as performer, pioneer, activist and icon.

“Aretha had such an amazing and long career. She lived a beautiful life that was full of peaks and valleys that led to her incredible success,” says Aretha showrunner Suzan-Lori Parks. “So many things that she went through — the highs, the lows — would have crushed a lesser being, in my opinion.”

Aretha was larger than life, and it requires an extraordinary talent to portray her. The honor of that challenge goes to Cynthia Erivo, a Grammy-, Emmy- and Tony-award winner and Oscar nominee (Harriet).

“I love Aretha. I’ve been listening to her since I was little. I learned to sing and tell stories through song by listening to her,” Erivo says. “I approached playing Aretha by listening to her music, paying attention to her voice, and honing in on how she communicates with her music. … I’ve also been poring over her interviews to learn her cadence and the ways in which she spoke. I’ve really enjoyed learning about Aretha as a person as well as her music. I allowed myself to be a geek about someone and something I really love — that’s how I’ve been getting to know her.”

“Just Cynthia being such a talented artist, a talented actor, it’s been nothing but fun to watch her really embody this character,” says Executive Producer and Director Anthony Hemingway. “And if you close your eyes and just listen to her sing, you are questioning, ‘Is Aretha in that booth, or is it Cynthia Erivo?’ But that’s the beauty in what I love seeing a real actor do. They step out of themselves and really step into the shoes of the character that they are portraying. And Cynthia is doing that.”


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