Cynthia Erivo / Genius: Aretha

Until this year’s Oscar ceremonies, relatively few people had heard of Cynthia Erivo. But then she had a chance to sing at this year’s Oscars ceremonies and delivered what many felt was the best moment of the typically slow-moving show. Erivo belted out “Stand Up,” the empowering anthem from the film “Harriet” which earned her two Oscar nominations – one for Best Song and, more significantly, another for Best Actress for portraying American anti-slavery crusader Harriet Tubman. Though she didn’t win any trophies, the talented British multi-hyphenate performer had a chance to shine on a world stage.

Now the 33-year-old Erivo is about to add to her burgeoning fame with her portrayal of legendary soul singer Aretha Franklin in National Geographic Channel’s GENIUS: ARETHA, the Emmy Award-winning limited series which resumes on May 25th and will be broadcast on Nat Geo channels in 172 countries. Aretha marks the third volume in the Genius anthology series that has gained enormous critical acclaim for its Season 1 and 2 depictions of Albert Einstein (Geoffrey Rush) and Pablo Picasso (Antonio Banderas).

Luckily for Erivo, a talented singer in her own right, she had the opportunity to meet Franklin on two occasions a few years before the musical icon passed away in August, 2018, not having any idea of course that she would one day be offered the chance to play her idol.

“I was performing in The Colour Purple (on Broadway in 2015),” Erivo recalls. “[Aretha] has stayed for the entire show which I later heard from people she doesn’t do normally, and she came backstage afterwards. She then sang the last line of ‘I’m Here’ (Erivo’s character Celie’s main number) back at me and then told me: ‘You can sing!'”

Added Erivo: “It was crazy! I don’t think I’m ever going to forget that moment. I made sure someone took a picture.”

They would next meet again at the 2017 Kennedy Centre Honours where Erivo was performing “The Impossible Dream.” Franklin was again sitting in the audience. Said Erivo: “I didn’t know then, but the camera panned to Aretha Franklin [in the audience] whilst I was up [on stage]. She had her eyes closed and was singing along. When I saw the video later, I was like, ‘What!'”…

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