Meet Cynthia Erivo, 2017 Grammy winner of Nigerian descent

Cynthia Erivo, singer, songwriter and actor, won a Best Musical Theater Album award at the 59th Grammy Awards for her contribution to The Color Purple album. She was one of the recording's three principal soloists.

Cynthia Erivo. Photo: BackStage
Cynthia Erivo. Photo: BackStage

While followers of the Grammy Awards in Nigeria looked to the relatively unknown Kah-Lo and the well-known Wizkid as representatives at the annual event, it was Erivo, whose parents are Nigerian, who emerged triumphant. Kah Lo was up for a Best Dance Recording award for her vocals on DJ Riton's 'Rinse and Repeat'; Wizkid was listed as a nominee for his part on Drake's Views album.

Erivo's win puts her in the category of Sade (real name, Helen Folasade Adu) and Seal (Henry Olusegun Olumide Adeola Samuel) as British Grammy winners with Nigerian ancestry. Both have four awards, the last of their hauls won at the 2011 Grammys.

Seal’s ‘Kiss from a Rose’ had been previously awarded three Grammys at the 1996 ceremony. Sade, the lead singer of the eponymous band, won Best New Artist at the 1986 event. Three more followed in each of the decades since.

Erivo was born to immigrant parents in Stockwell, South London. She was raised by her mother, a nurse who according to the singer-actress seemed to know that her daughter would take to the performing arts. Her instincts were confirmed early on as the young Erivo started performing at 11, acting in plays by Bertolt Brecht and later Shakespeare. She then trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts after a brief stint studying for a music psychology degree at the University of East London.

For a period, Erivo appeared on television and then found a place on stage. In 2013, she played Celie in the musical based on Alice Walker’s popular Pulitzer winning novel 'The Color Purple', in a production by London's Menier Chocolate Factory. Erivo took up the role again when the musical opened on Broadway in December 2015. The part won her a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical. It is the same role that has brought her a Grammy for Best Musical Theatre Album alongside fellow principal soloists Jennifer Hudson and Danielle Brooks. The album’s producers, composers and lyricists also receive the accolade.

Erivo's work has received widespread acclaim. In a review of the Broadway version of the musical, The New York Times referred to the artist as "an incandescent new star". The Hollywood Reporter named her one of 12 Broadway breakout stars in 2015, praising her "lucid, unflinching and rigorously honest characterization, along with the clarity and force of her voice". Vulture called her "stupenduous", saying that she "proves especially masterful at calibrating the gradations of Celie’s emergence".

With a Tony and Grammy in the bag, the 30-year-old actress has an opportunity to join the dozen people who have won the EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony). She may get a chance at the Oscar having been tapped to star as Harriet Tubman in a biopic of the abolitionist. She also has a role in Steve McQueen's forthcoming feature film ‘Widows’, which stars Oscar nominee Viola Davis.

At the 2017 Grammys ceremony, Erivo performed the Beach Boys’ ‘God Only Knows’ with John Legend. Listen to the song below:


 

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