FIRST LOOK: Cynthia Erivo transforms into a legend for ‘Genius: Aretha’

Oscar nominee Cynthia Erivo embodies late singer Aretha Franklin in National Geographic's Genius TV anthology series, and we have your first look at her transformation.

Cynthia Erivo
(Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Oscar nominee Cynthia Erivo embodies late legend Aretha Franklin in National Geographic’s upcoming anthology series Genius: Aretha and we have your first look at her transformation.

In a teaser trailer released on Friday, Erivo, 33, as the Queen of Soul, is heard saying, “You want to take it from the top,” as a myriad of dramatic moments from Franklin’s life flashes across the screen.

“What kind of music to do you really want to make, Miss Franklin?” asks a voice off-screen, with Franklin replying, “I want to make hits, Mr. Wexler.”

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The eight-part Genius: Aretha series will premiere over four consecutive nights, beginning Memorial Day, Monday, May 25, and will explore Franklin’s artistry and musical career.

The series also stars Courtney B. Vance as civil rights activist C.L. Franklin, Malcolm Barrett portrays Franklin’s first husband Ted White, Patrice Covington is Erma Franklin, Kimberly Hébert Gregory plays talent agent Ruth Bowen, Rebecca Naomi Jones is Carolyn Franklin and Sanai Victoria stars as Little Re, per PEOPLE.

Erivo previously spoke about taking on the Franklin role amid a wave of criticism over a non-Black American playing the cultural icon. The Nigerian-born actress was reportedly raised in the U.K., and many foundational Black Americans have objected to her casting.

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In a statement last December, the Harriet star said, “Over the last few months, I’ve been preparing myself to embody the Queen of Soul, from relistening to her music to discovering her rare interviews and reading some amazing books on her — all to really capture Aretha’s attitude and spirit.”

She added, “I’m truly humbled to be working alongside a very talented and musical team. Together, we’ll serve the Queen and create something special.”

In an interview with NME in November, Erivo said Franklin is “part of the tapestry of the voice I have.”

“The music I’ve learned and the performances I’ve done, she inspired a lot of it. She’s one of my heroes and I hope I can do justice to her achievements,” she added.

Genius: Aretha will premiere on May 25, 2020 at 9/8c on National Geographic.

Franklin died from advanced pancreatic cancer on Aug. 16, 2018, at age 76.