Many great musical artists emerged during the 20th century, but only one was ever crowned the Queen of Soul.
For its third season, the National Geographic anthology series Genius turns its attention to one of the greatest entertainers of all time. Acclaimed British performer Cynthia Erivo (Widows) stars as Aretha Franklin in Genius: Aretha, a new eight-episode exploration of the iconic singer's life and career.
Although currently best known for her acting, Erivo is also an accomplished singer herself, and garnered two Oscar nominations for the 2019 biopic Harriet: one for Best Actress, and one for singing the end credits song Stand Up.
Speaking via a video call, Erivo says it was an impromptu musical performance that led to her getting the call to play the singer behind classics such as Respect, Chain of Fools and Natural Woman.
"I was minding my business and a video of me singing on a red carpet got sent to [the producers] and they said 'Oh, this girl might be right for it.'"
"I was in shock," Erivo tells the Herald. "And really flattered. It meant a great deal to know that [they] felt that this person's life would be safe in my hands."
She admits to being initially intimidated by the prospect.
"I think that's partially why I do it. I think when there's a little bit of risk, it probably means that I'm leaning in the right direction."
Erivo says Franklin, who died in 2018 at the age of 76, loomed large in her youth.
"I've been listening to her since I was little, and I learned to sing and tell stories that way, by listening to her."
As Erivo became a singer herself, she began incorporating Franklin songs into her own act.
"I fell in love with a song called Ain't No Way, which I do at some of my concerts. There's a connectivity in love songs like that that speak about the pain of trying to be the partner that you want to be for the partner that you're with. There is a way in which you connect to people's experiences in the world. That's why I love her."
Genius: Aretha jumps around in time throughout Franklin's remarkable life, from her beginings as a singer in a gospel choir alongside her popular preacher father CL Franklin (played by Courtney B Vance) to her breaking out as a chart phenomenon in the late 1960s and beyond. Several iconic performances are recreated, and three or four songs feature in each episode. Erivo performed them all live during filming, and she says learning so many songs was one of the most challenging parts of playing the role.
"I was learning as it was going along, because there was so much to learn. But this was more of a pleasure than a challenge to be honest, I really got the chance to get to know her. I started as a fan, then I got to understand who the person was. Which was really awesome. To understand what she had been through, and to get to where she was really was inspiring."
A lesser known aspect of Franklin's life that Erivo is excited for viewers to learn about is the extent of the singer's activism.
"I didn't know that she had a close relationship with Dr Martin Luther King, and I didn't know how much she was working with him to help with the civil rights movement. I don't know that people realise that she used her music in order to help that movement."
Genius: Aretha isn't the only new project about the Queen of Soul. Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls) is also playing Franklin in a movie called Respect, set for release later this year.
"I haven't spoken to Jennifer personally," says Erivo. "I sent her congratulations because I'm really looking forward to seeing her version and the film. I'm actually kind of excited by the fact that we get to tell this woman's story more than once. The more the merrier."
Genius: Aretha writer/showrunner Suzan-Lori Parks also welcomes the film, but points out the series has more time to delve into Franklin's life.
"We have eight hours and they've got two hours. We are so excited. We think the Queen of Soul deserves all the love and attention that this world can shower on her."
Parks says modern audiences can take much inspiration from Franklin's peserverence.
"She was a Black American woman who kept going. Do you know how hard that is? I'm a Black American woman in the entertainment business. It is very hard to keep going and keep believing in yourself when the world tells you otherwise. It's very very difficult to be as brilliant as she was on top of it."
• The first two episodes of Genius: Aretha screen Monday March 22nd at 7.30pm on National Geographic (Sky Channel 072)