Cynthia Erivo Cast as Aretha Franklin in Season 3 of Nat Geo’s ‘Genius’

Cynthia Erivo and Aretha Franklin (Credit: John Russo/Handout Photo)

Cynthia Erivo has been cast as Aretha Franklin in Nat Geo’s Genius: Aretha, the cable network announced Thursday.

Genius: Aretha marks the first-ever authorized retelling of the Queen of Soul’s life story on TV.  Production will begin in November.

Franklin died in August 2018. During her career, she broke barriers, won 18 Grammy Awards and performed for three presidents.

Season 3 of Genius will feature some of Franklin’s most popular 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.”

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The series will additionally feature Franklin’s performances of “I Knew You Were Waiting for Me,” “Freeway of Love” and “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves.”

Erivo, a Grammy, Emmy and Tony Award winner will also be performing some of Franklin’s music.

“Aretha Franklin has been a source of inspiration for me since I was a little girl,” Erivo said in a statement. “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.”

She continued, “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 British born performer will next be seen in the upcoming big screen biopic Harriet, about slave-turned-abolitionist Harriet Tubman. The film opens Nov. 1.

Genius comes from National Geographic, with Imagine Television Studios and Fox 21 Television Studios. The Franklin-focused season will premiere in spring 2020.

“Cynthia Erivo blew me away. Not only is she an incredible and bonafide 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.”

“The fabulously talented Cynthia Erivo is dream casting to play iconic musical genius Aretha Franklin,” added Carolyn Bernstein, executive vice president of global scripted content and documentary films at 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.”

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Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks (Topdog/Underdog) will serve as showrunner. She’ll executive-produce alongside Grazer, Ron Howard, music mogul Clive Davis, Atlantic Records Chairman and CEO Craig Kallman, and Ken Biller.

Genius: Aretha follows previous installments of the series focusing on Albert Einstein (played by Geoffrey Rush) and Pablo Picasso (played by Antonio Banderas). The series won Emmys in 2018 for cinematography and sound mixing.