Cynthia Erivo says song about being disowned is ‘difficult,’ ‘cathartic’

Less than 48 hours after attending the closing ceremony of the Venice Film Festival, Cynthia Erivo is back in New York, rested from a morning run and ready to talk.

She’s training for the New York Marathon in November, which she’s run before, and insists to her skeptical interviewer that her dawn exercise helped her overcome any jet lag.

Considering the week she’s having – the debut of her solo album on Friday and attending the Emmy Awards on Sunday, where she’s nominated for her visceral portrayal of Aretha Franklin – Ervio needs to be in top form.

She plans to attend the awards (“I’m excited!” she says) and feels a kinship with Jennifer Hudson, who also depicts Franklin in the film “Respect.”

“Aretha had a tough life and you go through it as you’re playing her,” Erivo says. “I commend Jennifer for the work she did because I know it wasn’t easy.”

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In addition to her new album, Cynthia Erivo has also written a children's book, "Remember to Dream, Ebere."

Also on the list of Erivo’s projects is the Sept. 28 bow of her children’s book, “Remember to Dream, Ebere,” and it’s understandable why the Tony, Grammy and Emmy winner has sustained a frantic schedule.

Her new album, “Ch. 1 Vs. 1,” is named because for Erivo, “it felt like the beginning of something new,” she tells USA TODAY. “Even though I’ve been doing a lot of stuff for a long time, it felt like a new start, a new beginning.”

The release features 12 songs written by Erivo, a 34-year-old singer. They were recorded in various houses across America. While filming National Geographic’s “Genius: Aretha,” for which she’ll vie for outstanding lead actress in a limited or anthology series or movie at the Emmys, Erivo set up recording camp in Atlanta. After returning to London, Erivo bought a microphone as well as recording equipment to use in the bedrooms at two of her London homes.

They are a blend of old and modern soulful pop songs. “Day Off” was written seven years ago and dusted off for “Ch. 1 Vs. 1,” as was the vulnerable “I Might Be in Love with You.”

“There were several songs I had forgotten about and with ‘I Might Be in Love with You,’ someone had heard it and said, ‘This has a bit of a Lauryn Hill vibe. Maybe you should put it on the album,” she said.

Cynthia Erivo's "Ch. 1 Vs. 1" is due out Sept. 17, 2021 on Verve Records.

Erivo, who names Dolly Parton, Yebba, Sting, Prince and Franklin among her favorite songwriters, gets personal on the album, particularly on “You’re Not Here.” Written as a letter to her father, who disowned her when she was 16 – they last saw each other a decade ago at a cousin’s wedding – the piano ballad is heart-wrenching even before Erivo’s audible tears at the song’s end.

“It’s difficult to sing but it was cathartic to write,” She said. “I sang it at the Hollywood Bowl and it felt great to connect with people who were maybe going through the same thing and I realized, this is more than a ‘me’ thing and it’s a ‘we’ thing.”

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She also touches on pandemic life on “Sweet Sarah,” an acoustic guitar-driven song with shades of Joni Mitchell in the melody.

“Everyone was writing during the pandemic about the whole and I wanted to focus on the individual, the one who is really outgoing and used to spending time with people and now is locked away and that’s not their natural habitat,” Erivo said. “I wanted to mark that for people who felt that way themselves.”

Cynthia Erivo has a new album, children's book and Emmy nomination for her portrayal of Aretha Franklin.

Erivo’s upcoming children’s book also centers on emotional connection. The story, which she calls a “labor of love,” is about teaching the joy of dreaming in details. The main character, named after Erivo’s sister’s middle name and illustrated by Charnelle Pinkney Barlow, is designed to look like a combination of Erivo and sister Stephanie.

“I really wanted the book to look like a gift, so the illustrations had to look like art. Charnelle created the most beautiful world,” Erivo said.

Though Erivo is no stranger to earniawards (she earned two Academy Award nominations, including best actress for “Harriet”; won a Tony in 2016 for best leading actress for“The Color Purple”; a 2017 Daytime Emmy for outstanding musical performance in a daytime program also for “The Color Purple” and a 2017 Grammy for its soundtrack) – Erivo’s motivation for her next role was more personal than accolade-driven.

She’ll play the Blue Fairy in next year’s Disney remake of “Pinocchio,” and though it stars Tom Hanks as Geppetto, Erivo didn’t have any scenes with the superstar, whom she calls “lovely” based on previous meetings.

The immediate attraction was the chance to be a fairy godmother.

“To be a fairy godmother is awesome, but I have two goddaughters and to actually be a fairy godmother to these kids is so wonderful,” Erivo said. “There are dreams that come true and I don’t know of any little girl who wouldn’t want to be in the Disney space.”

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