Cynthia Erivo to Play Aretha Franklin in Nat Geo's 'Genius'

The Tony Award winner will headline the third season of the Disney-owned cable network's anthology.
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images; Photofest
Cynthia Erivo, Aretha Franklin

National Geographic has found its Queen of Soul.

Tony and Grammy Award winner Cynthia Erivo (Harriet, The Color Purple on Broadway) will play Aretha Franklin in season three of anthology series Genius on the Disney-owned cable network. Nat Geo is billing the season as a definitive, authorized account of the music icon's life and work.

"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 it has been highly influenced by Franklin. I feel privileged and excited to be a part of the sharing of her genius."

The season will chronicle Franklin's musical genius and incomparable career and the impact and lasting influence she has had on music and culture around the world, in addition to her outspoken championing of civil rights.

Genius: Aretha will also feature a number of Franklin's biggest recordings, including "I Never Loved a Man (the Way I Love You)," "Chain of Fools," "Don't Play That Song" and "Baby I Love You," along with her performances of "Freeway of Love," "I Knew You Were Waiting for Me" and "Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves." Erivo will also perform songs from Franklin's catalogue.

"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."

Said Franklin's niece Sabrina Owens, "For Genius to honor Aretha is a great affirmation of her legacy, and Cynthia Erivo is an extraordinary talent with an amazing voice."

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks (Topdog/Underdog) will serve as showrunner for Genius: Aretha. She will executive produce with Imagine's Grazer, Ron Howard and Francie Calfo; Clive Davis; Atlantic Records CEO Craig Kallman; Ken Biller; Gigi Pritzker and Rachel Shane of MWM Studios; Sam Sokolow; and Diana Son. Genius is produced by Imagine TV and Fox 21 TV Studios.

Erivo is repped by UTA, Authentic Talent & Literary Management and Peikoff Mahan.