Obituary of Norman Riley

May 2, 2021


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

Funeral Services


May 10, 2021

3:00 PM to 5:00 PM

Crestwood Funeral Home

445 West 43rd Street

New York, NY 10036

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My Deepest Condolences to the Riley Family. My Brother, Mentor, Friend has moved on to the Spiritual Plane of Our Respected Ancestors. Peace and Love. GOD BLESS

Posted by: Larry Moore-Mouning - Danbury, CT - May 5, 2021

Our sincere condolences and prayers to friends and family of Norman. We meet many years ago and had the pleasure of sharing the stage on more than a few occasions with him. I have many fond memories and musicals moments threw out the year. To the many that knew Norman you know we will always remember his laughter and all the great times.
God bless my brother Norman you will always be missed and never forgotten!!
Sincerely from your friend,
Hector Sanfiorenzo Irizarry
Latin Percussionist

Posted by: Hector Irizarry - Danbury, CT - May 5, 2021

Mr. Norman was a great man great wisdom great encouragement loving like my brother Larry say he was his mentor friend I think God for the short time that I got to mr. Riley I still remember going over his house when he had the two Siamese cats with my brother Larry love you brother Norman you may be gone but never forgotten and God has greater work for you so whatever position he put you in we know you're going to rocket to the fullest love you rest I'll fly like an angel let those wings spread wide and far

Posted by: Troy Moore - Greenville, NC - May 5, 2021

Condolences to family and friends

Posted by: Pat Perkins - Danbury, CT - May 5, 2021

My condolences from Whitaker family

Posted by: Cynthia Whitaker - Danbury, CT - May 5, 2021


Posted by: Annette Spruill - WATERBURY, CT - May 5, 2021


Posted by: Annette Spruill - WATERBURY, CT - May 5, 2021

My heart felt condolences to the Riley Family. Norman was a man of many talents. I will always remember his warm smile . Norman was an inspiration to many of us at Harambee from play productions to inspiring us to write poetry. Rest in peace my brother you will always be remembered..

Posted by: Betty MILLER-Jaynes - , - May 5, 2021

My heart is full with the memory of a gentle soul. I remember the music and memories Norman and I shared when I would drive him to the hospital. He was so loved

Posted by: Edythe Feaster - New York, NY - May 5, 2021

My deepest condolences and sympathy to Norman's family and his friends. He will be missed by his musician friends and by everyone who knew him. He had a big heart.

Posted by: Finley Hunt - New York, NY - May 5, 2021

Norman! What a wonderful human being. J lived in his building at M. Plaza. I was thrilled to bond with him by directing two of his piercingly dramatic plays at the Harlem School of the Arts back in the 70's. One was ATTICA and the other ADVENTURES WITH RICO. He was ahead of his time and a top flight musician. I shall miss him profoundly.

Posted by: Charles Turner - NYC, NY - May 5, 2021

It's with a heavy heart that I and my wife gina offer our deepest sympathy to the Riley family.

Posted by: Troy Strother - Charleston, SC - May 5, 2021

My deepest condolences to the family. I am a former Manhattan Plaza resident and Norman was nice to everyone

Posted by: Ednah Holt - Pittsburgh, PA - May 5, 2021

I first met Norman over 40 years ago when i was young an new in the theatre business. He became a good friend very easily. Such a kind heart and talented in many ways. He fused his talents,spirituality and sensibilities into one that Such a man will always be missed in each one of those ways. Rest on Norman,a job well done. Rest on.

Posted by: antoinette tynes - Hartsdale, NY - May 5, 2021

You will be Deeply Missed my Talented Friend!

Posted by: JEWEL BRIMAGE - New York City, NY - May 5, 2021

So sorry for your loss sending my prayers

Posted by: Debra Spruill - Auburn, AL - May 5, 2021

My most sincere condolences to the family.

Posted by: Antoinette Tynes - Hartsdale, NY - May 5, 2021

My sincere condolences to The Riley Family and his many friends and co-workers. I remember Norman when I was taking classes at HENRY St. Settlement...One of the nicest and giving people always willing to help and serve. RIP Norman

Posted by: Debbie McIntyre - Brooklyn, NY - May 5, 2021

"The best people are like water.
They benefit all things,
And do not compete with them.
They settle in low places,
One with nature, One with Tao"
-Tao Te Ching 8

Norman is my gentle, generous hero, always ready to help and make life better.
Thank you Norman for being you.

Love and blessings to you and your ancestors.

Posted by: vera zachariassen - Brisbane, Australia, - May 5, 2021

Sad to hear of his passing. May he rest in peace.

Posted by: Yanti Sukardi - Rego Park, NY - May 6, 2021

Posted by: Francois Moutin - , - May 6, 2021

Screenshots from the documentary " Mississippi Dreaming" The Moutin Factory Quintet. Here with Francois Moutin

Posted by: Bruce Frankel - Paris, - May 6, 2021

Posted by: Bruce Frankel - Paris, - May 6, 2021

Posted by: Bruce Frankel - Paris, - May 6, 2021

Posted by: Bruce Frankel - Paris, - May 6, 2021

Posted by: Bruce Frankel - Paris, - May 6, 2021

Posted by: Bruce Frankel - Paris, - May 6, 2021

Posted by: Bruce Frankel - Paris, - May 6, 2021

I am beyond sad. In fact devastated.
I feel empty and even angry at life's and fate's unfairness.
Norman is the most generous, inspiring and inspired soul I ever got to come across. Seeing him suffer for the past 3+ years was heartbreaking. He passing away is an immense loss not only for those who knew him but also for those who didn't have that luck. The world needs many more people as genuinely positive, as relentlessly magnanimous, as deeply creative and as intimately connected to the essence of life as Norman was.
I am sending my deepest condolences to everyone in Norman's family and to all of his dear friends. Processing his passing and mourning him is going to be a long uphill battle for many, among whom I humbly count myself.
Rest in piece my dear friend!!
With much LOVE

Posted by: Francois Moutin - New York, NY - May 6, 2021

Norman the One and Only. He was one of the lucky ones, he knew joy. Is it possible to rest in peace and still push the celestial band to the next creative level? Terrible loss. Sincerest wishes to the family and friends. We were lucky to know him.

Posted by: Bruce Frankel - Paris, - May 6, 2021

Please accept my condolences for your loss. Norman will be greatly missed.

Posted by: Bridget Scales - New York, NY - May 6, 2021

Siempre en tu espíritu en la lucha pa' justicia - mi hermano, Norman. May we always feel your spirit and energy within us. My dear Norman - how I will miss you.

Our deepest condolences to Norman's family and friends.
Tehya Rene and Elke Calero

Posted by: Elke Calero Probst - Danbury, CT - May 6, 2021

My sincere condolences for your loss. I pray Norman now rests in peace. Please reach out to me for anything needed. Norman was very special to me for a long long time. I put my hands together and pray, thanking God for bringing him into my life.

Posted by: Maria Chisolm - Jersey City, NJ - May 6, 2021

For the next 12 years we travel the world and worked side-by-side every step of the way we were a dynamic team together along with the Dan Sherman from Colorado the third brother, between the three of us it was nothing that was too big for us to do to make the The Belafonte Show go up on time all around the world. To look at Norman straight up you would never know the gentle giant that he was my daughters love their uncle Norman he loved my daughters as if they were his own he would walk them to school pick them up get pizzas take them to the corner store bake little cakes and brownies this man was incredible. My wife and my niece were members of his writing workshop which was very popular on Sunday. Well my Brother/Friend you lived a great life affected the lives of many people more than what you would ever know, I just know that you were one of the best friends I ever had and I will miss you so!!

Posted by: Steven Jones - Mount Vernon, NY - May 6, 2021

Normaaaannn! Always the man! What a Joy and Blessing to share work life with you. Thank you for great times, for your always spontaneous willing, giving hand of help for me and my moves. God bless your kind Soul and Sweet Spirit. Peace and love to your family.

Posted by: Gabrielle Lee - New York, NY - May 7, 2021

We express our deepest sympathies and condolences to the Riley Family.

Posted by: Joseph Marutollo - , - May 7, 2021

Posted by: Amanda Wood - New Milford, CT - May 7, 2021

My deepest condolences to the family and friends of Norman Riley May you R.I.P my Brother

Posted by: Alseymorial Ashe - Oakville, CT - May 7, 2021

My deepest condolences to the family and friends of Norman Riley May you R.I.P my Brother

Posted by: Alseymorial Ashe - Oakville, CT - May 7, 2021

Norman was my neighbor and always had something kind to say to me, my children, and anyone he happened to meet. With his passing I am reminded of the importance of taking the time to extend our friendship to those around us, even as we tend to our daily obligations. Norman had a special gift for that, and I believe everyone who knew him was better for it. He will be missed.

Posted by: Sarah Ridgway - New York, NY - May 8, 2021

My family and I met Norman years ago back in the late sixty's he was a force in our lives from that day on. He was a a special man that we were blessed to not only call friend, but family. He became the godfather to not only my sister's children but mine too. He helped mold my son into the man that he became but also my nieces into strong beautiful black women that they are today. He will be greatly missed by every member of our family so deeply.
Every child in our family has a memory of him that they hold dear from the oldest to the youngest. Sleep in peace my friend♥

Posted by: Gail Dillard - Danbury, CT - May 8, 2021

Norman, thank you so much for planting the seed of Black Theatre in my life as my Teen Drama Instructor at the Louis Abrons Arts for Living Center many years ago and for your friendship, encouragement, love & support over the years. May you rest in peace. You will be missed and forever hold a special place in my heart.

Posted by: Cynthia Kitt - Bronx, NY - May 8, 2021

I already miss you man, my heart breaks thinking about not calling you,
The Rock. The one constant in this ever changing world.
You never changed.
My Teacher, Mentor, Friend and Brother.
You were always there for me, no matter what was going on in my life.
I could always count on you, for words of encouragement or just for a laugh and to remember the old days.
The world has lost one of it's heroes.
My condolences to the family.

Posted by: Richard Arnold - APEX, NC - May 8, 2021

Norm, to many words were still unspoken. You will be forever remembered. And forever missed.

Posted by: Sarah - , - May 9, 2021

Norm, to many words were still unspoken. You will be forever remembered. And forever missed.

Posted by: Sarah Keusch-Aslan - , - May 9, 2021

Norman was dedicated to helping the youths at Harambee. He was a kind, gentle spirit. There was never a time that he wouldn't be available to help us. Norman, you will be missed. God Speed

Posted by: Veronica Williams - Southbury, CT - May 9, 2021

Having heard the countless stories of you as a child and meeting you as an adult I came to appreciate the impact that you had on my parents and thereby my life. I will always cherish the memories you shared with me and the encouragement and support you gave when my Mom's transition. You truly made the world a better place and for that I am truly blessed to have met and known you. Rest in Paradise my brother. Harambee forever!

Posted by: Dallas Gardner - Danbury, CT - May 9, 2021

In loving memory of a wonderful person. We will love you and miss you always.

Posted by: Heyward McCarley - Danbury, - May 9, 2021

May God Bless you and Comfort You in your Time of Sorrow.

Posted by: Jacquetta McMurray - West New York, NJ - May 9, 2021

Posted by: The Dillard Family - , - May 9, 2021

My deepest condolences to the family of Brother Norman Riley. May peace be upon his external soul. I will not forget him.

Posted by: Ralph Chance - New York, NY - May 10, 2021

Brother Norman, you will be missed dearly. What joy you brought to The Bill S. Curtis Harambee Youth Center. It was a blessing to have known you. R.I.P.

Posted by: Julie Barnes - Danbury, - May 10, 2021

My deepest condolences to Susan, Mark and the entire Riley family, as well as Tina and the countless people who were among Norman's circle of friends. My heart and spirit are broken with Norman's departure, but I am so grateful to have traveled such an amazing journey over the past nearly 30 years that included this remarkable and talented man. My first encounter with Norman was in the early '90s outside a Harry Belafonte rehearsal hall. Over the years, we developed a deep and abiding friendship and connection, and collaborated on many projects, including the creation of our indie record label, No Frill/No Lie Music. And then there were the countless Norman Riley/Underground Streets live gigs at bars, cafes and festivals throughout NYC. I will miss Norman in so many ways, but most especially our conversations. He had a kind and loving heart and was truly one of the most special individuals I will ever encounter in my life. Rest easy, dearest Norman...always, will I Remember...

Posted by: Karen Wos - Woodland Park, NJ - May 9, 2021

Condolences to the Riley Family. May His Soul Rest In Peace and Rise in Glory!

Posted by: Coleen Smart - Brooklyn, NY - May 4, 2021

I met Norman over 30 years ago at New Federal Theatre. He is one of the most talented Writer/Director/Technicians I've ever known! And thats why he was always working. His ability to make you feel like a Queen just by talking to you and encouraging you to hone your craft. He gave me so many tips on my writing... ALWAYS had kind words. I was fortunate to have run into him shortly after his last trip to Europe. We bumped into each other on a corner in Downtown Brooklyn! We picked up right where we had left off possibly ten years before. It was ALWAYS about The Work with him; but he also made you feel special. I spoke to him a few times...and he always made me feel like I was sooooo talented and soooo sweet...
When in fact, HE was the one who was blessed with ARTISTIC GENIOUS!! Really going to miss him.... Rest in Sweet Peace, My Friend
Love, Akua

Posted by: Akua Henderson-Brown - Brooklyn, NY - May 10, 2021

To Susan and Family... I send my most sincere and deepest condolences to you and your family on the passing of Norman. I will always remember him as a good, honest, and talented person. Having grown up around Norman and you in Danbury/Newtown I have the pleasure of many wonderful memories we shared together at Harambee and beyond. I am certain Norman is at peace and in the presence of Mrs Riley, your mother. She was a great woman too. It is always hard to say good-bye to someone you've known and grew together as teenagers but I am blessed to have had Norman in my life. Rest in peace my good brother!

Woodie Brandon (

Posted by: Woodie Brandon - Derwood, MD - May 10, 2021

Norman you will be missed dearly. Rest in peace. Regina

Posted by: Regina Smith - Danbury, CT - May 10, 2021

To Susan and family... My heart is deeply sad and hurting and i'am lost for words at this time, but sending my deepest heart felt condolences to you susan and family. I will always have Norman very close to my heart. BILL


Posted by: james cobb - DANBURY, CT - May 10, 2021

To Susan and family .. MY deepest condolences to you and family i feel the pain cause it just happen to me losing the one that you love is not easy. I will miss Norman dearly ,loved playing with him and taking his advice he always gave me...... R.I.P.


Posted by: james cobb - DANBURY, CT - May 10, 2021

My deepest condolences to Norman's Family & Friends.

Clearly Norman is BELOVED.

There is no one that I have met like Norman, and I am still in disbelief at his passing.

There are no words, or not enough words, to express the emotional hurricane in my brain and I am no wordmaster like you Norman.

I believe you now, as Tina sings, "Sit Upon Your Throne". It's been one of the many earworms stuck in my head from your music.

More than anything else though, you know I am haunted by "Midnight". By the message, the timing, and the beauty of the song itself. You'd planned on re-recording it and asked me to sing it with you. We'd rehearsed in person, on the phone, even at Burke. I am So Grateful we did that, even if never recorded it.
Over 33 years, dear Norman, more than half my life and half of yours, I have known you. I am beyond grateful for Your Influence upon My life. Playing in your band challenged me, but I grew a lot from it. Your encouragement, support, and appreciation of myself & others was nothing short of Angelic. Your Humility, an example for All.

I hope Mom was there to greet you, you know how much she liked you. =D

May you be playing at some eternal jazz club in the sky with The Masters & Ancestors.
~~~ Until we meet again ~~~

Posted by: Amanda Wood - New Milford, CT - May 10, 2021

To the family of Norman: I had the pleasure of touring with Norman and because it was Norman, we never had to worry about anything. He made sure at every venue we were safe and in good hands. He was professional, committed and even funny!! He is family. Blessings and God's peace to all of his loved ones. He leaves a beautiful legacy. In Love and Peace, Branice McKenzie

Posted by: Branice McKenzie - Oakland, CA - May 10, 2021

Posted by: Amanda Wood - New Milford, CT - May 10, 2021

Posted by: Barbara J Brandon - Washington, DC - May 10, 2021

Norman was exceptional in every way. A true renaissance man with a thoughtful mind and open heart. Accomplished writer, poet, performer, musician and teacher. His discourse spanned the gamut from the arts to politics and social issues, offering insight and wisdom on each topic such that I saw life from a different perspective every time we spoke. A consummate professional at BEI and with the any number of musicians and bands he worked with. He loved the music.

I am grateful for all of Norman's gifts but I am most grateful for having had the privilege of his friendship. It was there that he excelled far beyond most people I've known. I have never met nor probably ever will meet a more giving and selfless friend. He was always there to lend a hand or hopeful word, provide a much-needed pep talk, always, always shoring me up when the foundation cracked beneath me or make me laugh when life threw a curve and all you can do is laugh at the absurdity of it. He made the cracks seem minimal in the grand scheme, and surmountable in the end telling me always to have Plan A, Plan B and Plan C. I promise to do that. He was my rock, an earthly bridge over troubled water in my darkest days, the death of my Mom and my own health hurdles. Burdened with his own challenges he was still ever more than willing to help me carry mine and inspire me to fight on. That's a real friend. He will be dearly missed but such a radiant spirit as his can never fade. It lives on in the hearts and minds of those whose lives, like mine, he enriched till that day when the bridge is finally crossed and we meet again.

Posted by: Cheryl Pierce - New York, NY - May 10, 2021

To the Riley Family my heart is heavy Norman was a mentor , teacher Father , Mother and best friend he believed in me and my abilities more than I did and showed me the world of music and drama. You will be missed

Posted by: Troy Strother - Charleston, SC - May 10, 2021


Posted by: Chas Miller - Rocky Hill, CT - May 12, 2021

Gentle soul, humble giant and a sweet, present spirit. That’s Norman! May you rest in great peace Brother Man,and eternal music be with you.You will be missed.

You blessed us in your own special way, and leave a mark in each book of those of us lucky enough to have walked this great journey of life even for awhile with you, that says lovingly “Norman Was Here!”

With Great Gratitude,
Tsidii Le Loka

Posted by: Tsidii Le Loka - New York, NY - May 15, 2021

Haven't seen Norman for 50 years, but I have no doubt I would know him anywhere, at anytime with his arms and mouth open ready to share his passion and vision. So glad I had a chance to catch him in flight as he was just lifting off. Norman was trouble. Good trouble . . . full of energy, ready to shake things up and provide a voice that we desperately needed. To his family, please accept my condolences and thank you for sharing Norman with us. He inspired and touched me in an unforgettable way. I can still see him and expect to for a
long time. Otis Anderson, classmate and brother, The Gunnery.

Posted by: Otis Anderson - Milwaukee, WI - May 17, 2021

I didn't know you for that long but you were a true inspiring person. Thanks that I was able to meet you

Posted by: philipp rohl - vienna, - May 28, 2021

Nervous and new to NYC in the 1980's Norman was my writing mentor and big brother. I grew as a writer and became comfortable in my artist skin. In his space with Tina's glow warming the room I wrote poems and short stories that later won awards while learning the nuances of jazz. He was an extraordinary teacher and genuine soul. The world was better for Norman Riley and today surely a bit dim. Let his love, rhythm and rhyme forever live through all of us lucky to have shared his grace. My sympathy and love to Tina and all of his loved ones. Many blessings.

Posted by: Carol Lewis - Dobbs Ferry, NY - September 9, 2021

Rest in peace Norman. Thanks for all of the laughter.

Posted by: Sharon McFarland - New York, NY - September 9, 2021

Would you please contact me? Norman was such a huge part out of my life Emily

Posted by: Emily Got - Montlake Terrace, WA - Friend November 30, 2023