Norman Riley

  • Born: September 3, 1953
  • Died: May 2, 2021
  • Location: New York, New York

Crestwood Funeral Home & Cremation Services - Midtown

445 W. 43rd Street
New York, NY 10036

Tel. (212)245-7575

Tribute & Message From The Family


Norman Riley was born in New Rochelle, New York on September 3, 1953. He was the youngest child of Janet and Elwood Riley and joined siblings Susan (his twin, born 12 minutes earlier) and older brothers Mark and Clayton.
He was raised in Newtown, Ct., where he attended elementary and junior high school, before entering the all-male private school known then as The Gunnery, which is now known as The Frederick Gunn School. Although Norman did not complete his studies at The Gunnery, it nonetheless had a profound impact on him, as did the civil rights movement, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Black Panther Party.
In the midst of this tumultuous time in the nation's history and after being raised and rejected in all-white Newtown, Ct., Norman found a welcoming home in Danbury, Ct. at a place that was known then and now as Harambee, which, in Swahili, means "all pull together."
It was at Harambee that Norman's truly remarkable gifts emerged. He became a writer and poet there, and his poetry was published while he was still a teenager. He studied with Owen Dodson, Clay Stevenson, Louis Untermeyer and others. He became a musician and set his poetry to music in two CDs entitled Under Ground Streets that are available today through Folkways Records and at the Smithsonian. He formed his own band and played at numerous clubs throughout New York City. In addition to his skill in musical composition, he played a mean cunga, having been taught by the incomparable Billy Curtis. He also acted and wrote plays, one of which was performed at a theater here in the City.
As a young man, Norman worked at the Henry Street Settlement, where he met many young black actors and actresses of the day who have gone on to have illustrious careers on stage, in the movies and on television. He met people there like Samuel L. Jackson, Eric LaSalle, Anna Horsford and S. Epatha Merkeson just as they were getting started.
But the heart of Norman's career and his greatest source of pride was his work with Harry Belafonte, traveling with him all over the world and assisting in staging his performances. To Norman, Mr. Belafonte was not just a brilliant musician and entertainer; he was a dedicated civil rights activist who fought on the front lines for justice and equality; the things Norman believed most deeply in. Our family is honored today by the presence of representatives of the Belafonte enterprise.
Norman, beloved by so many, is survived by the many close friends and family who are present today, as well as those who could not be here in person, including myself, Mark, Joy, Nancy, Kim, Pat, Hagar, Grayson, Gayle, Chris, Viveca, Sonji, David, Daryl, Tony, Brian, Lynn, Pam, Tobey and Evelyn, just to name a few. Norman is also survived by very special people in his life, including Tina Feaster, with whom he shared an incredible and loving bond and Karen Wos who also extended her unqualified love and steady support to Norman. And of course, his many friends at Manhattan Plaza where he lived for 44 years, his students and close friends: Clifton Graves, Larry Moore, Carl Feaster, Troy Strother, Derry Williams, Thomas Glave, Francois, James (Clock) McCarley, and his rock and spiritual brother, Steve Jones.

To virtually attend Norman's service, the zoom link is