Emmy winner Patrice Covington on playing Erma Franklin in ‘Genius: Aretha’

Covington sat down with theGrio to discuss working with Cynthia Erivo again, Aretha's legacy and much more

Patrice Covington is a woman of many talents and she made quite the impact with her work on Genius: Aretha. 

As one of the leads in NatGeo’s third season of their Genius anthology series, the accomplished performer got to put her many talents on display for the world to see. Tackling the role of Erma Franklin, she helped to paint a picture of the late, great Queen of Soul. 

Read More: Courtney B. Vance and Suzan-Lori Parks discuss ‘Genius: Aretha’ on theGrio’s ‘Acting Up’ podcast

theGrio caught up with the brown-skinned beauty to find out what she learned about the icon while working on the powerful project that also stars Cynthia Erivo and Courtney B. Vance. 

While some folks may just be learning about Covington’s talent, she has been honing her craft for years. She’s a Grammy-nominated and Emmy-winning performer who starred in John Doyle’s Emmy-winning revival of The Color Purple on Broadway as “Squeak” alongside her Genius: Aretha costar, Cynthia Erivo. 

Patrice Covington Facebook Photo: JUAN VELOZ

“I have gotten to see Cynthia transform into so many things. I was there, in the beginning, to watch her star truly rise in The Color Purple and it’s an honor,” she told theGrio. “It’s truly an honor and it is inspiring to see. And I’m really happy for her.” 

In 2018, she took on the starring role of “Roz” in the Broadway musical, The Heart of Rock and Roll and previously snagged roles in The Book of Mormon and played “Effie” in Dreamgirls. 

Even with all of that experience under her belt, Patrice Covington admits her first TV gig was daunting, but the task was made easier by the fact that showrunner Suzan-Lori Parks was leading the project. 

“It was one of the things that made me feel the most comfortable. Suzan-Lori Parks, I know her from the theater world and all of her plays and things that I’ve studied my whole life,” she says. “This was my very first time on television in an acting role, so to have someone whose work I was already familiar with was just kind of perfect. It gave me a little bit more solace going into something so big for the first time.”

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Fortunately, the music aspect of the role was something Covington knew she could nail from the start. 

 “It was my favorite part, especially Aretha Franklin’s music. I just keep saying her music is truly embedded in the fabric of my life. The music is nostalgic and healing and it brings you back to that moment, whatever you had on, whatever you would do, and who you were with. And her music does that for me from my childhood. It’s always been a part of my life.” 

When it came to preparing for her role as Erma Franklin, Covington did her own research on the talented songwriter who happened to be Aretha’s sister. 

“I did look a lot on YouTube. I was able to find some pictures of her and can see how fabulous she was. And Suzan-Lori Parks had a great deal of information that she got from the family regarding she and Aretha’s relationship,” she explains.

“But one of the most amazing things that I found out was that the song that we all love called “Piece of My Heart,” which we know was made famous by Janis Joplin, was actually originated by Erma Franklin. And I thought that was really special.” 

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Read More: Aretha Frankin’s family protest ‘Genius: Aretha’ after failed talks with network

She also weighed in on the controversy surrounding Genius: Aretha that was sparked by family members who allege they weren’t consulted. 

“I just kind of think art is legit. Art is legit and this woman’s story is legit and everybody deserves to get all the good, all the energy, and the information you can get from this woman and what she did to change this world,” she says. 

“I think we often, you know, unfortunately, in this business we have competition sometimes. But in this case, I don’t see it because we get eight hours to tell a story of a woman who changed history with music and art and who healed and continues to heal through now. She has been passed for a couple of years already and it’s still so special and still so important.”

Check out the interview above. 

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