The Voice of Anthony Riley
"Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, 'How can I help?'" -- Romans 15:2, The Message
My office is located just a few blocks from Rittenhouse Square. Being so close, I'll often walk through the park on my way back from Court, especially on days with nice weather and when there's no 12 bus in sight down Walnut Street.
On a recent day walking through Rittenhouse, I thought about Anthony Riley, the street singer who would often perform there, either near the entrance to the park at 18th & Walnut or across the street near the Barnes & Noble. He would gather crowds simply with the sound of his voice, singing Motown songs, Michael Jackson, and other classics.
Just a few months ago, in early June, news came to light that Anthony had killed himself by hanging. He was 28 years old and he had only earlier this year performed sublimely on The Voice on NBC.
Reading this article in Philadelphia Magazine, one can see the intersection of depression, fame, drug addiction, reality tv, difficult family life, exceptionalism, and pressure on this talented young man. I won't comment on all that, except to say that this is all a function of the culture we live in and, many of these factors, some perhaps to lesser degrees, effect many other men and women here in Philadelphia and beyond. It's sad and tragic.
Walking through Rittenhouse now, I often think about Anthony. I saw him perform there many times over the years, so much so that he became a part of the cultural fabric of this city, someone who I expected to see and hear when I was out and about.
The story that I remember best is the time that my wife and I happened to be walking past Rittenhouse on a warm summer evening when Anthony was singing and then serenaded a couple as they danced together, when the young man suddenly dropped to his knee and proposed to his girlfriend, to the jubilant cheers of all those watching, all the while Anthony setting the scene with his beautiful voice. It was a very touching moment, a magical one I'd dare say, and one that I won't likely ever forget.