Cynthia Erivo turns into ‘Queen of Soul’ Aretha Franklin for new show

FILE PHOTO: 25th Critics Choice Awards – Arrivals – Santa Monica, California, U.S., January 12, 2020 - Cynthia Erivo
FILE PHOTO: 25th Critics Choice Awards – Arrivals – Santa Monica, California, U.S., January 12, 2020 - Cynthia Erivo. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

March 18, 2021

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Emmy, Grammy and Tony award-winning actress Cynthia Erivo transforms into the “Queen of Soul” in a new television series about American songstress Aretha Franklin.

National Geographic’s “Genius: Aretha” follows the late singer’s rise to stardom as well as her personal life. Franklin, known for her powerful voice and her hit songs likes “Chain of Fools” and “Respect”, died in 2018, aged 76.

“To be able to step into that body and understand it … that meant a great deal because now I got to know her a bit more, which, I guess makes me even more of a fan but it also makes me understand her more,” Erivo told Reuters.

The 34-year-old actress, known for the film “Harriet” in which she portrayed escaped slave and abolitionist Harriet Tubman as well as the Broadway musical “The Color Purple” for which she won a Tony Award, sings Franklin’s songs in the series.

“When you’re going through something and the only thing that really expresses it in the right way is a song – I learned that because of (Franklin), I learned that by listening to her,” Erivo said.

“Lovecraft Country” and “American Crime Story” actor Courtney B. Vance play’s Franklin’s preacher father in the series, which begins on National Geographic on Sunday.

“I listened to a lot of his sermons over and over and over again … and then I took a lot of notes about … his cadences and the words that he seemed to use over and over,” he said.

Pulitzer Prize winner Suzan-Lori Parks, the series’ showrunner, executive producer and lead writer, said she had previously spoken with Franklin about developing a biographical musical many years ago.

“Among the things she mentioned was … she wanted us to put respect on her name … And of course that was one of the guiding principles of this project,” Parks said.

“It’s a celebration and a recognition of her genius, the moments where she created things that will last long after she’s gone.”

(Reporting by Alicia Powell; Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)