When British-Nigerian actress, singer and songwriter, Tony Award and Grammy Award awardee, Cynthia Erivo sang at the Kennedy Centre, she echoed late US President John F. Kennedy. “…Society must set the artist(e) free; to follow… vision wherever it takes. Arts knows no national boundaries. Genius can speak in any time….” More so Erivo, two-time two Academy Awards nominee, may have in this season of global divisiveness epitomized a resolution in history.
Exactly what Cynthia Erivo has been done since first ever exposure between 2010 and 2011, performing The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Chewing Gum and The Tunnel for British TV. She speaks to her global audience in lead music and movie roles. She sang in Sister Act and The Color Purple at two prestigious venues, The West and Broadway. She sang with a declaration, I’m Here and earned her place. Really, she earned that seemingly impossible dream The Impossible Dream.
Erivo as most would call her also bagged an impossible life-goal in the biopic of US slave era liberator, Harriet Tubman (March 1822 – March 10, 1913)in 2019. Some sense of liberation for an Oscar hopeful. This in her words was, “It has been incredible…bit of whirlwind.” Exactly how she declared I Am Here wowed edgily-seated Oprah Winfrey and attentive Paul McCartney, as a nominee.
She was born Cynthia Onyedinmanasu Chinasaokwu Erivo of Nigerian parentage in Stockwell England on 8 January, 1987. After La Retraite Roman Catholic Girls’ School, Cynthia’s vocal career, began with University of East London music psychology degree. She entered the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in her first year. That is when Cynthia Erivo, nurtured by a single mother spurred her singing, acting and songwriting talents. Perhaps spurred so, by singing Silent Night at age five, in Jesus Christ’s birth-play, Cynthia’s beginnings missed her father; seen once at age 16.
Erivo’s earliest show-off to any audience was in Marine Parade, Brighton Festival, 2010. Cynthia’s bridge jumps, river baths, marshland walks and forest horse rides, while successfully filming Harriet Tubman are the coolest ways to describe her career breakthroughs. And did Harriet speak through faithful Cynthia’s “We believe because she believes…;” praying every day as she unfolded the historical heroine. “…to make the space safe and open for her because … I feel that she’s around… to be able to reach into your faith to tell the story of somebody who has faith.”
Cynthia’s faith and powerful voice are made so real in her rendition of Stand Up, during the 2020 Oscar Awards. This time attired in beautiful modern costume; compared to her bulky 19th-century costume. She was Harriet’s ‘incarnate’ with full exposition of the then young Harriet’s sadness, love, happiness, indeed her humanity. Albeit through a major movie role, following Widows and Bad Times at the El Royale. Cynthia lends her powerful voice to Motown’s hitting notes from a 5ft height frame.
It means Cynthia had to dig-in everywhere she has been, perhaps not so easily. “… there was a lot sacrificed in order for that to happen.” Therefore, only the hard way, she encountered a chanced angel, who actually spurred her Royal Academy of Arts (RADA) sojourn. She bantered, “If you never see yourself on screen, which is what was happening at around my time, you don’t know that there’s any way to do it because there’s no example.”
Living now in New York, USA Cynthia’s appearance in 2013 London remake of The Color Purple on Broadway, featured her alone from the original cast. So, based on a 1982 original novel by Alice Walker, adapted for a 1985 film, it features Celie, an African-American woman of the American South, early to mid-20th Century. Therefore, the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical went to Cynthia Erivo, 2016.She also won Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album, and Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Musical Performance in a Daytime Program. She shared the second award with other cast members.
You will have no choice but to love Cynthia Erivo’s persona as she tells it in I Am Telling You I’m Going Anyway. She comes off as Harriet Tubman and commands some presence with a low-cut white hairstyle and likely to be adorned in a headscarf with some long nails. She speaks of her life:
“Before I’m British, I’m a black woman. The first things people see are the colour of my skin and my sex…I am first-generation African… from Nigeria, so that is very much my culture as well. I have seen people insult my mother for being from where she is from, and I’ve been insulted for that. All I can do as an actor is to tell the story. That’s my job.”
Cynthia’s existential and practical acceptance of her origins and lifepaths may someday earn her an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony added-up). She almost earned it all in 2015 with role in The Color Purple, Broadway revival. No matter what Cynthia’s young age, gender and breakthroughs proves her ancestry in Nigeria’s South-East region’s Igbo ethnicity.