Cynthia Erivo Reveals the Encouraging Words She Received From Aretha Franklin at Kennedy Center Honors

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Lindsay Weinberg
·3 min read
Cynthia Erivo Reveals the Encouraging Words She Received From Aretha Franklin at Kennedy Center Honors
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Cynthia Erivo wanted to "pay homage" to Aretha Franklin in the National Geographic anthology series Genius: Aretha, in which she plays the titular legend.

Not only does Cynthia have the pipes to portray Aretha onscreen, but she also has some personal experience with the "Respect" singer.

During two recent magazine interviews, Cynthia opened up about the time she first met Aretha and the meaningful praise she later received from the late Grammy winner, who died in 2018.

Their first meeting was backstage at The Color Purple in 2016. Cynthia was playing Celie, a role she held from 2015 to 2017.

"We met her afterwards, she came backstage, she sang the line 'I'm here' back to me, so I couldn't have been happier after that," Cynthia recalled to Entertainment Weekly last week.

Later that year, they met again, when Cynthia performed at the 2016 Kennedy Center Honors. "You can really sing!" Aretha told her, according to her latest interview with DuJour.

Cynthia Erivo's Best Looks

"I saw her when I was about to perform and she remembered me and was like, 'Oh you, you can sing!'" Cynthia explained to EW. "I was like, 'I'm happy! That's it! I don't need anything else.' And what that sort of left me with was, especially when this came around, was that I hope that I make her proud doing this. I hope that she knows that a person who valued what she thought of the work I was doing is telling the story."

Cynthia Erivo, Aretha Franklin
Cynthia Erivo, Aretha Franklin

During the star-studded performance, Aretha was seen singing along to "The Impossible Dream" in the audience, and according to Cynthia, that reaction really stayed with her, even while she was filming Genius: Aretha.

The Harriet actress told EW, "To be able to sing something and to know that was the reaction that was brought about by a performance of mine, you wish that if she's anywhere listening, I hope every time she hears me singing, that's how it feels when she hears it."

She added, "I hope whenever people hear me sing, they feel that—they feel the love in it, they feel bliss. I definitely hope that wherever she is, she got those vibes from me."

Cynthia Erivo as Aretha Franklin, Genius: Aretha
Cynthia Erivo as Aretha Franklin, Genius: Aretha

Clearly, her intimate moments with Aretha left a deep impression, as Cynthia told DuJour she felt a huge responsibility while embodying the "A Natural Woman" star onscreen.

"I really wanted to find out what she was doing in one song to another," the 34-year-old London native said. "I wanted to pay homage to the way she would think and the choices she would make, because they were really specific."

In fact, Cynthia took some inspirations from Aretha's style while making her own album in 2020. "It was very strange to be playing Franklin, who's such a huge influence on music itself, and be recording an album at the same time," she told DuJour, which notes her album is expected to drop this summer.

Click here to see how Cynthia transformed into the Queen of Soul for the series, which premiered on March 21.