Cynthia Erivo Cast in Nat Geo's ‘Genius: Aretha’

Focus Features

Focus Features

National Geographic has set Cynthia Erivo as Aretha Franklin for its upcoming season of Genius.

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.

The upcoming limited series will chronicle Franklin’s legendary career and the lasting influence she’s had on music, culture, and civil rights.

Genius: Aretha will also feature several of Franklin’s biggest recordings 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.” The series will also feature Franklin’s performances of "Freeway of Love," "I Knew You Were Waiting for Me" and "Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves." Erivo will perform many of the songs from Franklin’s iconic catalog.

"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."

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

The Emmy, Grammy, and Tony Award-winning Erivo will be seen next month in the Focus Features biopic Harriet. Her other upcoming projects include HBO’s The Outsider, Doug Liman’s Chaos Walking, John Ridley’s Needle in a Timestack, and the Warner Bros. musical Rip Van Winkle for which she is also executive producing.

Genius: Aretha will see Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks (Topdog/Underdog) serving as showrunner. Imagine’s Grazer, Ron Howard and Francie Calfo executive produce alongside returning executive producers Ken Biller, MWM Studios’ Gigi Pritzker and Rachel Shane, and EUE/Sokolow’s Sam Sokolow. Clive Davis and Atlantic Records Chairman and CEO Craig Kallman will also executive produce as part of a partnership between Imagine and Warner Music Group. Diana Son also joins as executive producer, with Imagine’s Anna Culp serving as producer alongside Peter Afterman.

The Genius anthology series centers around the complex lives led by the world’s foremost innovators, detailing their groundbreaking achievements as well as their passionate personal relationships. The first season focused on Albert Einstein, portrayed by Geoffrey Rush, while the second season saw Antonio Banderas taking on the role of Picasso.

Genius: Aretha starts production next month, targeting a spring 2020 premiere on National Geographic.