Family and friends of Anthony Riley, the street singer and contestant on The Voice who was found dead last week, are planning a candlelight vigil in Rittenhouse Square as part of a campaign to help pay for his funeral expenses.
“We’re going to sing a few songs and remember my brother,” said Halima Miley, Riley’s sister. “That’s where it all started. That’s where he made national news.”
A Philadelphia native, Riley, was best known as a contestant in the current season of NBC’s hit singing competition But he rose to prominence after he was arrested in the park for singing Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Going to Come.” He sued the city, and the case was settled out of court.
“He got into it, ‘he said ‘I’m gonna do this. I’m gonna go to jail for singing,’” Robby Parsons, a West Virginia native who was performing with Riley when he was taken into custody told Metro.
On The Voice, Riley instantly won over all four judges with his electrifying rendition of James Brown’s “I Got You (I Feel Good),”
Last year, Philly magazine named Riley the city’s best street performer. “You notice a gorgeous stranger. Your eyes meet. And suddenly you forget why you were so stressed out to begin with. Riley is that good,” they wrote.
The crooner was found dead of an apparent suicide on Friday. But rumors about a drug problem swirled around him since March, when he abruptly left The Voice.
Family and friends say he was battling different demons.
“He didn’t have a drug problem,” Parsons said. “He had mental illness. The drugs were part of his self-help.”
After leaving The Voice, Riley went into rehab in Pennsylvania. He then stayed at Parsons’ house outside Wheeling, where the pair recorded some music.
“He wanted some sober support. I’m a single father, so I’m good for that,” Parsons said.
His co-collaborator said he was shocked to see Riley go from street performer to television star.
“Anthony and I said we were always going to make it. We had the tools,” Parsons said. “When he went to The Voice, he called me. He said ‘I made it, and you’re coming along for the ride.’”