Photo of Cynthia Erivo by photographer John Russo
National Geographic Taps Triple Threat Cynthia Erivo (“Harriet,” “The Color Purple”) as Aretha Franklin in GENIUS: ARETHA
Tony®-, Emmy®- and Grammy® Award-Winning Erivo Will Portray Grammy Award Winner and Musical Icon Franklin in the Next Installment of the Emmy-Winning Anthology Series GENIUS
Previously Announced, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Playwright Suzan-Lori Parks (“Topdog/Underdog”) Is Executive Producer and Showrunner
Brian Grazer and Ron Howard Serve as Executive Producers Along With Music Mogul Clive Davis, Atlantic Records Chairman and CEO Craig Kallman, Ken Biller, Fox 21 Television Studios and Imagine Television Studios
The Aretha Franklin Estate Joins GENIUS: ARETHA, the First-Ever, Definitive Scripted Limited Series on the Life of the Universally Acclaimed Queen of Soul
Production to Begin November 2019 for Spring 2020 World Premiere
WASHINGTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--National Geographic, with Imagine Television Studios and Fox 21 Television Studios, announced today that Tony®-, Emmy®- and Grammy® Award-winning Cynthia Erivo (“Harriet,” Broadway’s “The Color Purple”) will star as Aretha Franklin in the next installment of the Emmy-winning global anthology series Genius: Aretha. This upcoming season will be the first-ever, definitive and only authorized scripted limited series on the life of the universally acclaimed Queen of Soul. Filming will start this November for a spring 2020 premiere on National Geographic channels in 172 countries and 43 languages.
“For GENIUS to honor Aretha is a great affirmation of her legacy, and Cynthia Erivo is an extraordinary talent with an amazing voice!”
The production will feature many of Franklin’s biggest recordings and hit 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.” In addition, the series will feature Franklin’s performances of “I Knew You Were Waiting for Me,” “Freeway of Love” and “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves.” Erivo will also be performing many of the songs from Franklin’s rich catalogue.
“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 in it has been highly influenced by Franklin. I feel privileged and excited to be a part of the sharing of her genius.”
“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 Brian Grazer. “Cynthia is the perfect person to portray the profoundly human story behind the genius that is Aretha.”
Ms. Franklin’s niece Sabrina Owens said, “For GENIUS to honor Aretha is a great affirmation of her legacy, and Cynthia Erivo is an extraordinary talent with an amazing voice!”
“The fabulously talented Cynthia Erivo is dream casting to play iconic musical genius Aretha Franklin,” said Carolyn Bernstein, EVP, global scripted content and documentary films, 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.”
Erivo is a Tony-, Emmy- and Grammy Award-winning actress who burst onto West End and Broadway stages in “The Color Purple” and has taken the big screen by storm. Erivo will next star in Kasi Lemmons’ “Harriet,” in which she will bring the legacy of Harriet Tubman to the big screen. On the television side, she will star in the HBO series “The Outsider,” based on the Stephen King novel of the same name. Erivo will also star alongside Daisy Ridley and David Oyelowo in the anticipated sci-fi thriller “Chaos Walking,” from director Doug Liman, and in John Ridley’s “Needle in a Timestack” alongside Orlando Bloom, Freida Pinto and Leslie Odom Jr. In addition, Erivo is set to executive produce and star in Warner Bros.’ musical take on the American folk tale of “Rip Van Winkle.”
GENIUS dramatizes the fascinating stories of the world’s most brilliant innovators, exploring their extraordinary achievements along with their volatile, passionate and complex personal relationships. The third season of the anthology series will explore Franklin’s musical genius and incomparable career, as well as the immeasurable impact and lasting influence she has had on music and culture around the world. Grammy Award winner Franklin was a gospel prodigy and outspoken civil rights champion and is widely considered to be the greatest singer of the past 50 years, receiving countless honors throughout her career.
Without knowing how to read music, Franklin taught herself to play the piano; at the young age of 12, she began to record songs and sing on gospel tours with her father. She signed her first record deal at age 18 with Columbia Records. In 1966 she moved to Atlantic Records, where she recorded many of her most iconic songs. In 1979 she began a 40-year friendship and partnership with Clive Davis, which produced a number of hit songs, including the highest charting and bestselling song of her career, “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me),” a duet with George Michael. The legendary singer is one of the world’s bestselling musical artists of all time, with more than 75 million records sold globally during her career. Her voice was identified as a “natural resource” by her home state of Michigan.
Previously announced, Suzan-Lori Parks, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of “Topdog/Underdog,” is executive producer and showrunner for GENIUS: ARETHA. Imagine is partnering with Warner Music Group for this third season, which will again be executive produced by Imagine’s Brian Grazer, Ron Howard and Francie Calfo. Legendary hit record producer Clive Davis and Atlantic Records Chairman and CEO Craig Kallman have also joined as executive producers. Returning executive producers include Ken Biller (Genius: Einstein, Genius: Picasso), Gigi Pritzker and Rachel Shane (MWM Studios), and Sam Sokolow (EUE/Sokolow). Diana Son joins as executive producer. In addition, Imagine’s Anna Culp serves as producer alongside Peter Afterman.
Erivo is repped by United Talent Agency, ID, Authentic Talent & Literary Management, and Pekioff Mahan.
National Geographic, the company behind the recent Oscar-winning and seven Emmy-winning FREE SOLO, in 2017 premiered the first season of GENIUS, which starred Geoffrey Rush as the brilliant scientist Albert Einstein. Biller was showrunner and creator for the multi-Emmy-winning GENIUS: PICASSO and GENIUS: EINSTEIN. GENIUS: EINSTEIN earned 10 Emmy nominations, including Outstanding Limited Series, as well as Golden Globe and SAG Award nominations for Rush. The follow-up season, GENIUS: PICASSO, starred Antonio Banderas as the titular Spanish painter and matched much of the success of its predecessor, earning seven Emmy nominations — and two wins — as well as Golden Globe and SAG Award nominations for Banderas.
Imagine has a history of creating timeless and culturally impactful films, shows and documentaries in the world of music, including the Academy Award-winning film “8 Mile,” the Grammy Award-winning documentary “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week — The Touring Years,” the critically acclaimed documentary “Pavarotti” and Emmy-winning television drama “Empire.” The company also produced the film “Get on Up” about James Brown, and many documentaries, including “Jay Z’s Made in America,” “Katy Perry: Part of Me” and “Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band.” Imagine is currently in production on the Hulu series “Wu-Tang: An American Saga” and the sixth season of “Empire”; it is also developing a film version of the musical “tick, tick … BOOM!” with Lin-Manuel Miranda directing, and a documentary about legendary musician Louis Armstrong.
For more information visit www.natgeotv.com or follow on Twitter using @NatGeoPR.
About National Geographic Partners LLC
National Geographic Partners LLC (NGP), a joint venture between Disney and the National Geographic Society, is committed to bringing the world premium science, adventure and exploration content across an unrivaled portfolio of media assets. NGP combines the global National Geographic television channels (National Geographic Channel, Nat Geo WILD, Nat Geo MUNDO, Nat Geo PEOPLE) with National Geographic’s media and consumer-oriented assets, including National Geographic magazines; National Geographic studios; related digital and social media platforms; books; maps; children’s media; and ancillary activities that include travel, global experiences and events, archival sales, licensing and e-commerce businesses. Furthering knowledge and understanding of our world has been the core purpose of National Geographic for 131 years, and now we are committed to going deeper, pushing boundaries, going further for our consumers … and reaching millions of people around the world in 172 countries and 43 languages every month as we do it. NGP returns 27 percent of our proceeds to the nonprofit National Geographic Society to fund work in the areas of science, exploration, conservation and education. For more information visit natgeotv.com or nationalgeographic.com, or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and Pinterest.
About Imagine Television Group
Imagine Television Group is comprised of Imagine Television and Imagine Television Studios. Imagine Television was founded in 1986 by Brian Grazer and Ron Howard and is run by Imagine Television Group Chairman, Francie Calfo and Imagine Television President, Samie Kim Falvey. The company’s productions have been honored with 195 Emmy Nominations and 30 Golden Globe nominations. Last year, the company formed Imagine Television Studios, also co-run by Calfo and Falvey, to produce and finance a slate projects which currently includes the series “Why Women Kill” for CBS All Access from Marc Cherry; “Swagger” for Apple from Kevin Durant and Reggie Rock Bythewood; “Wu-Tang: An American Saga” for Hulu from The RZA and Alex Tse; and “68 Whiskey.” Imagine Television is also producing “Filthy Rich” with Tate Taylor for Fox. Current programming includes Fox’s award-winning series “Empire,” Netflix’s “Arrested Development,” and NatGeo’s Emmy® award-winning “Genius” anthology series. Earlier productions include Fox's Golden Globe and Emmy® award-winning Best Drama Series “24”; NBC’s Peabody Award winning series “Friday Night Lights”; Fox’s Emmy® award winning Best Comedy “Arrested Development”; Fox’s “Shots Fired”; Fox’s “Lie To Me”; WB's “Felicity”; ABC's “SportsNight”; and HBO's “From the Earth to the Moon”, which won the Emmy® for Outstanding Mini-Series. Howard and Brian Grazer began their collaboration in 1985 with the hit film comedies “Night Shift” and “Splash”, and continue to run Imagine is Executive Chairmen.
About Fox 21 Television Studios
Fox 21 Television Studios, a division of Disney Television Studios, is devoted to making creatively ambitious scripted and unscripted series for all distribution platforms. Fox 21 Television Studios is responsible for the Emmy and Golden Globe-winning sensation from Ryan Murphy, Nina Jacobson and Brad Simpson, “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” (with FX Productions), as well as its follow-up “The Assassination of Gianni Versace” which also won the Emmy and Golden Globe for Outstanding Limited Series; the Emmy and Golden Globe-winning “Homeland,” starring Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin which enters its eighth and final season this year; the Emmy-nominated “Fosse/Verdon” from award-winning producers Thomas Kail, Steven Levenson, Joel Fields and Lin-Manuel Miranda and starring Oscar winner Sam Rockwell and Golden Globe winner Michelle Williams; the blockbuster “Sons of Anarchy” as well as its follow-up “Mayans M.C.” from co-creators Kurt Sutter and Elgin James; “Queen of the South,” executive produced by David T. Friendly, Dailyn Rodriguez and Benjamin Daniel Lobato; the Emmy and Golden Globe-nominated “Pose” from Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, Nina Jacobson, Brad Simpson, Steven Canals, Janet Mock, Alexis Martin Woodall and Sherry Marsh; “The Hot Zone” based on Richard Preston’s international best-seller for Nat Geo starring Emmy winner Juliana Margulies; and the Emmy-nominated “Genius: Einstein” and its follow-up “Genius: Picasso.” Upcoming series include “The Politician” from Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan and starring Tony-winner Ben Platt and Oscar winners Gwyneth Paltrow and Jessica Lange, Ryan Murphy’s “Ratched” starring Golden Globe and Emmy winner Sarah Paulson in the title role, “The Old Man” starring Academy Award winning Jeff Bridges and six-time Emmy winner John Lithgow, as well as the newest installment of “American Crime Story” entitled “American Crime Story: Impeachment” starring Sarah Paulson, Beanie Feldstein and Annaleigh Ashford. Fox 21 Television Studios shows have amassed a collective 120 Emmy nominations and 32 Emmy wins, as well as multiple Golden Globes, Humanitas Prizes and Peabody Awards. Fox 21 Television Studios, ABC Studios and 20thCentury Fox Television comprise Disney Television Studios, a collection of labels that produces the most award-winning, culture-defining programming across 16 broadcast, cable, digital and international platforms. Its programming now reaches more than a billion people every day across the world; in as many as 180 countries, across six continents, in 30 different languages.