English actress, singer and songwriter Cynthia Onyedinamanasu Chinasaokwu Erivo was born in Stockwell, London, England, on January 8, 1987. Both of her parents were immigrants from Nigeria and separated when Erivo was very young. Her mother, Edith, worked as a nurse and raised Erivo and her sister, Nicolette, in a single-parent home. Erivo performed for the first time at a school Christmas play when she was 5 years old and sang “Silent Night” as a solo. At the age of 11, Erivo had a role in the play The Caucasian Chalk Circle, and later appeared in the British TV show series Trust Me, I’m a Teenager.
Erivo graduated from La Retraite Roman Catholic Girls School in Lambeth, England, in 2004, and enrolled at the University of East London to study music psychology. After her first year, she dropped out and began her professional training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, graduating with her bachelor’s in acting in 2010. Fresh out of school, Erivo landed roles in several local plays as well as touring productions. She was cast as Delores Van Cartier/Sister Mary Clarence in a UK theater version of Sister Act, and in 2013 she was cast as Celie Harris in the Menier Chocolate Factory Theatre version of The Color Purple.
Erivo made her American performance debut in the 2015 Broadway reprisal of The Color Purple. For her performance, she was awarded the 2016 Grammy Award for best musical theater album, a Tony Award for best actress in a musical, and a Drama Desk Award for outstanding actress in a musical. In 2017 she won an Emmy Award for outstanding musical performance in a daytime program, The Today Show, on NBC. Erivo performed during the 59th Grammy Awards (2017) and continued acting on several British TV shows and plays. She made her major film debut in 2018 in the movie, Bad Times at the El Royale and had a starring role in the movie Windows.
In 2019, Erivo portrayed abolitionist Harriet Tubman in the biopic, Harriet. She also performed an original song, “Stand Up,” and for both her role and the song, Erivo won numerous awards throughout the U.S. and in the U.K. While Erivo continued her acting career, she launched a production company called Edith’s Daughter in 2020. She also signed a deal with the media company, MRC, to develop television projects for the company. In August 2021, Erivo released her debut album, Cynthia Erivo, Ch.1 Vs. 1, with Verve/Universal Music.