Home Interviews AN IN-DEPTH EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH THE TALENTED AUTHOR/HOST/PRODUCER PATRICK RILEY
AN IN-DEPTH EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH THE TALENTED AUTHOR/HOST/PRODUCER PATRICK RILEY PDF Print E-mail
Written by Patricia Turnier   
Thursday, 28 April 2022 00:00

Patrick Riley’s family is originally from historical Savannah, Georgia. In 1779 during the Battle of Savannah some 3, 500 French soldiers, 800 volunteer troops (outnumbering the American troops) from the island Saint-Domingue, Hispaniola (the former name of Haiti) together with men from other French Caribbean colonies (like Guadeloupe and Martinique) allied with the American Revolutionary forces to fight the British1 —the first American colonist (considered a martyr) killed on March 5th 1770 in this war was the Black man, Crispus Attucks who escaped slavery (this event became known as the Boston Massacre). In 2007 a memorial statue was erected in Savannah in honor of Haitians’ contribution.

Patrick L. Riley was born in Tokyo, Japan in 1970 to Queen Elizabeth Bellinger Riley, his Mother and first female role model and Herman L. Riley, Sr. Chief Master Sergeant of the United States Air Force. The first name Patrick bears special significance. It is a Roman appellation related to privileges and aristocracy. It is not a coincidence that Riley was destined to encounter several Black female legends throughout many years including Oprah Winfrey, his long time former boss. The letter l in Riley’s name is for Leroy in honor of his maternal preacher grandfather. Patrick Riley has two siblings and very early in his life he moved with his family in different countries (such as Germany). Later, the family went back to the U.S. to settle in Valdosta, Georgia in the seventies. It was not easy for Riley to grow up as a Black gay young male. On that account, his journey to accept his sexual orientation became long and difficult. He even dated at some point a woman, Rachel. When he admitted to himself that he was not into women and when he came out later, this female supported him. They managed to remain good friends. Hence, Riley eventually did his coming out after his mother’s passing in his twenties.

Since the age of 5, propelled by his Mother’s encouragement, Riley knew he wanted to be part of the entertainment industry. She introduced him to great artists like the Queen of Gospel Mahalia Jackson; considered then to have one of the most beautiful and powerful voices in America. She sang hymns at the 1963 March of Washington and encouraged Dr. King to deliver the “I Have a Dream” speech, one of the most commanding orations in all American history. Riley’s mother taught her son Mahalia Jackson’s sacred song Take My Hand, Precious Lord. In truth, this song was her sacred classic one. The Riley family has deep-rooted interests in music. It has been said that the voice of his mother (known as an alto vocalist) was compared to Mahalia Jackson. On some level, she taught her son how to chant. She trained him as a singer and speaker for the church on diverse occasions such as Easter. Thus, the love for arts came from his mother who nurtured it by taking her son to the opera and symphonies. Patrick Riley always loved music, aforesaid hailing from Georgia like the fellow singer Otis Redding (considered as the king of Soul), another great voice who left tragically and too soon. Riley was influenced by all these sounds as well as Motown.

Riley became a Windsor Forest High School graduate in 1988 and he later earned a cum laude degree in broadcast journalism at Morehouse college in association with Clark Atlanta University in Mass Media Arts via a concentration in Radio/TV/Film in the early nineties. Morehouse remains a highly respected academic institution, founded in 1867 (two years after the end of the Civil War) and is the only Black men’s college in the United States. The African-American billionaire Robert F. Smith paid the entire student debt for the class of 2019.

Riley became a 1992 Morehouse alumnus, like Spike Lee (his father and grand-father went there also), Samuel L. Jackson and Dr. MLK (this precocious man entered this institution at the age of 15) and his sons Dexter Scott King and Martin Luther King III including the grandfather Martin Luther King Sr. This HBCU prepared all these men who achieved success in multiple domains. Years later, after graduating from Morehouse, Riley’s alma mater in its 2005 publication wrote a compelling profile about him recognizing his leadership as a multitalented professional media man. His nephew Herman L. Riley, III followed his footsteps by studying at Morehouse. He is currently the Global Digital Lead for the Tequila Brand House at Beam Suntory after a successful, decade-long career that started in New York City at entertainment cable giant HOME BOX OFFICE (HBO). American Express, Audible, and Unilever are also professional stops on the nephew's resume. Affectionately called "Noot" by Patrick Riley, he was a co-star of a 2018-19 docu-series that was Executive Produced by the well-known weatherman Al Roker for Magic Johnson's ASPIRE network.

While studying in college, Riley had a radio show on WCLK. After, he got a job as an associate producer on Fox 5’s “Good Day Atlanta” morning show and he worked at WSB. Later, he went to New York City in 1995, where he produced Geraldo Rivera’s primetime show at the time Rivera Live. Riley is quite focused. Note worthily, very early he knew what he wanted to do professionally. He started to work as a journalist even before he completed high school.

In spring 2018, Riley became an author. His book entitled That’s What Friends are For, is a fitting title representing Riley’s relentless interest in music. He will explain in the following interview the meaning of the title of his hardback and its origins. It is one of the best books out there that honors Black women. Beyoncé sings in her song, “women run the world”, this is what Riley makes the readers feel when they are immersed in the universe of all the females the author presents. This well-written page turner narrates his ordeals and successes while he pens about the meaningful women he knew in his personal and professional life. Readers learn what they mean to him and about their contributions. This book provides the perspective of a journalist who has been involved in the entertainment industry for a quarter of century. In the near future it should become a music documentary. It does not happen often that the first book written by an author is very good, which is the case with Patrick Riley. NABJ (National Association of Black Journalists) qualified his book as "Outstanding Literary Work", and the NYC Pride organization gave him its 2018 Trailblazer Award honor in Harlem at The Schomburg Center of Culture & Research.

Many negative words are used to describe women: cougar, old maid, gold digger, baby mama, bimbo and the list goes on (thanks to women’s battles and men who truly love them, we live now in a world where females can become who they want more than any time in history)—even being a housewife has been devalued (by the way, women always worked whether outside or inside their homes). None of these words are used in Riley’s book because he respects women. He uses the word diva in the positive sense and in a respectful way. The quintessence of Riley’s book is an exposé and a homage to the females who have been meaningful in his life since infancy including of course his mother. He considers them as queens. Author Patrick L. Riley shares in his compelling book stories with Diana Ross, Oprah, Ruby Dee, Janet Jackson, etc. Oprah wrote in her O’ magazine that Diana Ross was the first woman she wanted to be like at age 10 when she saw her on the Ed Sullivan TV show; and Riley penned in his book how inspired he was by her as well. He felt a rapprochement with her. He talked also about this in the following interview.

Patrick Riley’s interests gravitate towards many types of Black music—not limited to pop bur shows tastes in gospel. In That’s What Friends are For, there are pictures of him with CeCe Winans and Mary Mary for example. In his hardback much is mentioned about African-American music groups who made it big since the seventies (the decade of his birth). People who love Black artists will really enjoy Riley’s analysis regarding the music covering the disco era. He also penned on the subject of the history of Black music in America since slavery by reminding us about the richness of their artistry and what they brought to the world. Thus, there is a lot of rich historical data in Riley’s hardback with many angles.

Considering he grew up in the seventies, an era which saw the birth of rap, Riley shares his views regarding hip hop and the role of females in today’s monolithic genre. Future readers will see pictures of him with the multitalented Queen Latifah, members of Salt & Pepa, etc. This book will invoke feelings for readers of traveling throughout the years concerning entertainment Black artistic creativity. Interestingly Patrick Riley raises the questions why other R&B Black females artists from Canada are overlooked. The same phenomenon happens elsewhere such as in the UK where good soul music is being made. Riley does not limit his interests solely to African-American female artists. He is aware of the great contributions of others.

In That’s What Friends are For, he writes about his joys and tribulations. His diverse background gives a unique perspective in his book. As mentioned, it does not often happen that a first time author writes a really good book which is the case with That’s What Friends are For. Riley has a solid foundation and a plethora of talent. He is a highly respected entertainment journalist; interviewing renowned personalities like Susan Taylor, Master P, Gwyneth Paltrow, Regina Hall, etc. The actress Daphne Maxwell Reid said that the letter L in his name stands for lovingly. The Tony Award winner Melba Moore praised his work, as did actress Angela Robinson, etc. Harriette Cole did a radio interview with him on WBAI 99.5FM.

The book contains many pictures, including the cover with Mr. Riley and various African-American stars. There are photos of different generations of Black female artists in his book such as Marsha Ambrosius, Tamia, Jill Scott, Janet Jackson, Deborah Cox, Melba Moore, Fantasia Barrino, Halle Berry, Danielle Brooks (who played the Queen of Gospel Mahalia Jackson in the movie Mahalia presented by the journalist Robin Roberts) and Jessye Norman. On the cover, there is a picture of Riley with the queen of Soul Aretha Franklin who was a dear friend to him. He attended a handful of her birthday parties - including her last public NYC birthday party in 2015 - https://www.nbcnews.com/news/nbcblk/aretha-franklin-puts-star-studded-birthday-n329901.


The book recounts the struggles that some African-American entertainers had to go through such as Vanessa Williams who had to give up her crown for Miss America after the scandal. Williams bounced back after this misogynoiristic ordeal and showed a lot of resilience by succeeding in the entertainment industry thanks to her multiple talents (she is more than a triple threat) and hard work. These stories remind readers about the tenacity and determination of many inspiring Black women. The author further informs readers that in 2015 the Miss America Pageant organization apologized to Ms. Williams and her mom while she was serving as the head judge. Riley wrote that after Vanessa Williams, 7 other Black women became Miss America. This theme alone could be a book in itself. Maybe it should be Mr. Riley’s second book and one of his fashion model friends could write the foreword. Mr. Riley traces the history of Black participants to the pioneer former Miss Iowa Cheryl Brown who became the first African-American contestant in the Miss America Pageant in 1970, the author’s year of birth. She paved the way for all the others who followed. While Riley writes about the stories of these Black models, he reminds us that they are not just a pretty face but have other strengths like an entrepreneurial savvy such as Iman who created a cosmetic line for women of color, Tyra Banks who became a TV producer, etc.

We discover in Riley’s hardback that Oprah has been a great boss and very professional. It has been reported in the media that during her 25 years as a talk show host, she has never called in sick, in other words she was always present. In view of Oprah’s passion for her craft, it was not really work to her but her first true love.
Based on Riley’s testimony, it seems that none of the legendary female Black icons he met throughout the years were conceited. We often hear people say that most of time if you stay at the top for a long time you cannot have a big head.

The author penned about the Black actresses in television and movies regarding their struggles and triumphs while narrating about his attempts to get a TV show on the air while analyzing his place in the entertainment industry as a TV host and Black gay man.  Given that Riley is passionate about the entertainment industry, readers learn in the book that the Broadway musical Rent gave the courage that the author needed later for his coming out. By the way, he wrote in his book an entire chapter about Broadway. African-Americans performed there since 18982.  The author talks about many people who had an influence in his life and what they mean to him. For example, in his twenties, he heard this powerful quote from Susan Taylor “Everyone is not healthy enough to have a front row seat in our lives. There are some people in your life that need to be loved from a distance”. Riley met later on his journey this former editress-in-chief of Essence magazine. The author also dedicated a chapter concerning Black female journalists. In addition, he wrote about his views regarding Reality TV with his perspective of the image or representation of Black women.  It was very interesting to learn in Riley’s hardback that Dr. Guy (the father of the multitalented entertainer Jasmine Guy) was his religion professor at Morehouse. It shows how great knowledge from this institution can be transmitted from a generation to another.

Oprah celebrated Black women at her Legends Ball and in his own way Riley paid homage to strong Black females with his book like the Queen Latifah and Monie Love’s anthem-song Ladies First. The paperback provides an interesting outlook on the entertainment industry paralleled with the author’s own life. The author relates throughout the years what different female icons symbolized to him such as Diana Ross (who he met later in his professional life) with her song “I’m Coming Out”. He was ten when this song was released. It meant a lot to him at a time when he was still unsure of his sexual orientation. The author makes readers laugh when he wrote that he could have died and gone to heaven when Ms. Ross (who is a designer among her other multiple talents) complimented him on the pants he was wearing during a fundraising campaign. To Mr. Riley, Ms. Ross is his gay icon. The book also talks about other celebrities who embraced the gay community and the author wrote what these people mean to him. Moreover, he penned interesting thoughts regarding some artists who could not be themselves like Luther Vandross.

Riley interviewed celebrities featured on Oprah’s segments Where Are They Now? such as Mel B. Riley makes mention of The Spice Girls in his book, which includes a picture of him with Mel B. The Spice Girls is the biggest female group of the U.K. No female musical group in the U.K has come close to or surpassed The Spice Girls’ achievement.

Riley shares his unique and decades long perspective of the entertainment industry, his focus on African-American child stars is particularly interesting. It is pleasing to look at pictures that Riley took with the children celebrities like the daughters of Diana Ross, the daughter of Richard Pryor, the daughter of Vanessa Williams and so forth. As adults these children from celebrity parentage evidently did not feel entitled to the fortune of their parents by resting on their laurels; instead with merit they made their own way to succeed in the career of their choosing. For instance, the Golden Globe winning actress Tracee Ellis Ross understood the importance of an education and managed to earn a theater degree from the Ivy League Brown University in 1994. Hence, she made sure to possess a solid foundation that will always serve her whatever she does professionally and beyond. Later, in 2015, Brown University gave her an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts. Riley also wrote about Black women behind the camera like Shonda Rhimes, Mara Brock Akil, Ava DuVernay and Gina Prince-Bythewood.

In That's What Friends are For, Riley penned his struggles and journey to accepting his homosexuality. Candidly admitting, at some point, he did not know where his place was, given that there were few role models among gays that he could identify with. The only and most ancient individual with whom he found a kindred spirit was with the late blues singer Ma Rainey. Aforesaid, it became a long road for Riley to come out. He knew he was gay since age 8 and he felt different from other boys at age 3. It is sad that so many people would like to embrace certain things and can’t because of stereotypes. This robs them and the society as a whole of what they could bring to the world. For example, Riley recounted in his book that when he used to watch Fame in the 80s, he would dream of becoming a dancer like the student Leroy but he did not dare to follow his aspirations because some people associated this with being a f* or s* regarding males. Patrick Riley first publicly came out in the segment entitled "When Did You Know You Were Gay" on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2005. This show received a GLAAD Award later. Riley was courageous because he knew it would be difficult for his family to face this but it made people from the LGBTQ+ community less alone. Later in his life, he became a LGBTQ+ activist.

He said explicitly to the media that many of the women portrayed in his book were his dream girls while he was growing up. For Riley, his book is an entertainment diary and a memoir. It was important for the author to present Black women who are important to the culture. Again, his book brings a unique perspective of an entertainment journalist who has decades of experience. Riley knows most of the who’s who in Black America so, he was definitely the man who had to be involved in the Oprah’ Legends Ball.
In summary, Riley’s book showcases and pays homage to legends like Diana Ross, Gladys Knight, Ruby Dee and Aretha Franklin that he knows professionally. Some became friends. His book honors primary his mother Queen Elizabeth Bellinger that he lost too soon, in his early twenties.

His book is like a beautiful and long love letter dedicated to his mother and all the women he loves. He actually did put some of them on the cover like Oprah, Janet Jackson and Taraji Henson. NABJ also stated in 2018 that his book is considered a love letter to Black women. Aforesaid, he lost his mother when he was 23. So, the book is a tribute to her, his first diva and all the women who inspired him throughout his life. These females have been an oasis for him. It became cathartic for Riley to pen the book and it allowed him to be more at peace with the loss of his mother at such a young age. Writing the hardback became liberating for him.

Riley had a role in a movie that he will talk about in the interview below. It was his acting debut and he performed his character well in the film. Riley never does anything halfway. His excellent work ethic will take him far. He gave his all in the role. The strength of the movie reminds people of the grave risks for guys who do not have strong and supportive male figures (especially a father) in their lives as youth. It is also about forgiveness among other themes. The film showcases a spectrum of Black males including a very young talent, Darius Kaleb who plays Omar. It will be interesting to see what the future will have in store for Riley in the movie industry. Riley definitely does not stay in just one field. He is willing to explore other realms related to the entertainment industry.

During his spare time, he loves to participate in karaoke. In fact, singing is a lifelong passion for Mr. Riley. In addition, he likes young people. He does speaking tours in front of students, such as in 2018 he lectured at the CTAE summer camp: https://www.facebook.com/SCCPSS/videos/2152057015037318/. Young people definitely need to experience, and have accessibility to individuals who have made it in their chosen field to lend as inspiration and hope. It shows how Riley is generous of himself by sharing with the youth his knowledge and professional experience; it is very important for kids to be exposed to the realities of several careers. Patrick Riley could be a great speaker of American bureaus nationwide, and beyond.

Currently, Patrick Riley presides over the National Association of Black Journalists' Arts & Entertainment Task Force and he worked on the Board of Directors for NABJ, the Atlanta Association of Black Journalists and the New York Association of Black Journalists, which granted him the "Volunteer of the Year" Award at the annual Trailblazer Awards ceremony. He co-hosted on a digital talk show “The Happy Hour” www.TheHappyHourTalkShow.com via Facebook & YouTube.  “The Happy Hour” is a program hosted by five diverse gay males who discuss many subjects such as politics, dating, relationships, fashion and entertainment with a LGBTQ+ perspective. For now, the show is on indefinite hiatus since pandemic; however, the guys do get together for virtual check-ins via Zoom, Streamyard, and Clubhouse. Riley occupied the position as a freelance, senior field producer at “The Oprah Winfrey Show” for more than 13 years – comprising ABC network credits on “Oprah’s Legends Ball”, and was involved in the opening of “Building a Dream: The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy” in South Africa. This became the catalyst that allowed Riley to interview Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton (at the White House's Roosevelt Room on Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday in 2001) with many celebrities he admires like Diana Ross, Mary Tyler Moore, Janet Jackson, Beyoncé, Dr. Maya Angelou, etc. Throughout the years, he has been involved in other Oprah’s projects like the Super Soul Sunday and so on. In addition, he worked with Sidra Smith A Luv Tale (a TV show on BET Plus).

Riley continued to work as a producer for The Wendy Williams Show (2011-2018), Pickler & Ben, BET Creative Services (2008-2018), OWN and NBCBLK. He Executive Produced the 2015-16 "The More You Know" campaign for NBC Universal. He has other clients like TV-ONE; COZI-TV; The Advocate; Daily Blast Live, ARISE ENTERTAINMENT 360, HBO and so forth. Moreover, Riley has speaking and hosting engagements with Prudential, Optum, Disney, American Heart Association, and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Patrick Riley is also a Brand Ambassador for Miss Jessie’s.
Throughout his career, he interviewed women from different generations, and produced stories on a number of high-profile individuals: Keke Palmer, Jennifer Hudson, Diana Ross, Mary Tyler Moore, Quincy Jones, etc. In 2016, he was an Interviewer/Field Producer for Oprah, Where Are They Now? which featured Richard Pryor’s daughter Rain Pryor.

As mentioned earlier, in May 2005 Riley produced the Legends Ball at Oprah’s private Santa Barbara, California estate named The Promised Land—like the book of the international bestseller of former U.S. President Barack Obama. Oprah, a true visionary: invited Michelle Obama to the Legends Ball when nobody knew she would thereafter become the First Lady of America. Barack Obama, a senator at the time was also present. Riley interviewed the politician during that event. It would be very interesting for a next Oprah’s Legend Ball to invite minors (celebrities and academically gifted children) to interact with the icons.

Patrick Riley is multihyphenated. He doesn't want to be pigeonholed. He wears many hats; he is mainly a producer, author and host. Thus, he has been involved in several projects. As already noted, he worked for Oprah Winfrey for almost 15 years. She always had a strong team with her and Riley was definitely instrumental among this group of people. In other words, the success of a TV show depends a lot on those you don't see.
When Riley was in high school he dreamt of becoming the first Black male Oprah Winfrey. He is a gregarious man, very easy to talk to. The fact that he traveled a lot since his childhood helped him to develop social skills that allow him to adapt to diverse interesting personalities. Patrick Riley is a man with a great open mind who does not lock himself in.

As people can figure out, Riley has many interests. Since his childhood, he had a keen taste for entertainment and journalism domains. So, he found a way to combine these two fields later in his career. He tried at some point with his family members to make it as a singer. He studied the profession of African-American female journalists in Savannah where he lived at some point while he was growing up. He looked up to other prominent Black journalists in the U.S. like Bryant Gumbel and Max Robinson.
His new show Inspired with Patrick L. Riley featured interesting people namely the actress Daphne Maxwell Reid, 2020 Pulitzer Prize Winning Poet Jericho Brown, Daily Blast Live HOST Erica Cobb and Jennifer Holliday who spoke about the reunion of the musical Dreamgirls which started circa 40 years ago. For this show, Riley also interviewed the R&B Grammy nominated singer Shanice. In this video https://vimeo.com/562386110/37b37ee011, viewers will discover to what extent she can sing when she performed the famous song of Minnie Riperton Lovin’ You. His show Inspired should be showcased on BET, TVOne, OWN and so forth.

In summary here are the highlights of Riley’s career:

- He worked for The Oprah Winfrey Show as a field producer and so on since the 90s for almost 15 years. In 2005, he produced the famous Legends Ball.
- He interviewed actors on Arise Entertainment 360.
- He moderated a screening of Chris Rock’s documentary Good Hair
- Aretha Franklin accepted an honor at the NYC Black Pride's 2018 GALA while Riley received the Trailblazer Award
- He has been a freelance client for The View
- He was a Keynote Speaker for the North Carolina Central University at its 2018 African American Literary Symposium. The theme was "Black Masculinity in the Eras of Obama and Trump"
- He interviewed legends like Diana Ross and the Motown founder Berry Gordy at the opening night of Broadway’s Motown the Musical

Largely, Riley did many things during his career. He interviewed Cicely Tyson, Daphne Maxwell Reid, Ava DuVernay, Tichina Arnold, etc. He was a regular pop culture analyst on TV One’s Life After. He produced the Monica TV Reality Show and Keyshia Cole’s spinoff Frankie & Neffe. He pursued freelance projects via OWN-TV's "Where Are They Now?"; "Super Soul Sunday"; etc. from 2010 until 2020. He attended movie premiers: For Colored Girls and Frankie & Alice (one of the best roles of the Oscar winning actress Halle Berry) and the TV premieres The Game and Being Mary Jane among others. Riley is an active member of NABJ. At the beginning of this year, Riley appeared on the BLACK NEWS CHANNEL to discuss Sidney Poitier. The Tony-winning director Charles Randolph-Wright will create a Broadway play based on Poitier’s memoir, The Measure of a Man.

Mr. Riley is a respected reporter in the entertainment industry. For example, the former supermodel Veronica Webb wrote an interesting article on him for the well-known website The Root https://www.theroot.com/women-who-inspire-meet-the-legendary-bffs-of-patrick-r-1821191095. As an independent producer and writer for over eight years, Riley’s clients have comprised of NBC, BET, I-StyleTV.com, Crosswalks TV, Levi’s, OWN and HBO. He also was a regular pop culture analyst on TV One’s Life After.
In 2019, he was in Cancun, Mexico as the ambassador for the LGBTQ+ Arts & Culture Music festival. The same year, he participated in a symposium concerning the media portrayals of Black Women in Popular Culture & Reality TV. Circa 2011 at the Apollo Theater, he interviewed several celebrities for an event intended to raise stroke awareness. It became important for Riley to be part of this meaningful event having had at least two family members suffer and later die from this health condition.

As mentioned, Riley is capable of easily adjusting to different personalities. The fact that he ended up in different part of the world during his formative years has given him a great capacity for adaptation. Patrick Riley is a courageous man who chose to live truthfully. He represents a testament that it is possible to be accepted and to make it in this world while being authentic. His lifelong partner is Anthony Harper, a producer in the entertainment industry. Together they live outside of New York City in Ridgefield Park, N.J. When Patrick Riley speaks it sounds poetic and people can discern he is a singer. The following conversation occurred on December 15th 2021. This is his first Canadian interview and he was very generous with his time.

 

Patricia Turnier converses with Patrick Riley:

P.T. Growing up you went to different parts of the world because of your father’s work in the Air Force. Where did you go and did you learn other languages? Being immersed in diverse cultures, how did this help you later professionally speaking and on a personal level?

P.R. My parents are from Savannah Georgia in the Southern part of the United States. They grew up there during the Jim Crow era when segregation, votes’ suppressions occurred. This was during the 30s and 40s. In the 50s, my father enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and later married my mother. They had the oldest sibling sister Janis in 1963 in Savannah. In 1965, my brother was born in Germany. I arrived in 1970 in Tokyo, Japan.

P.T. Are you the baby?

P.R. I am the baby of three and we lived in Japan for three years. I don’t speak Japanese or German but I went to many parts of the world thanks to the military career of my father. This global experience definitely shaped my professional life. It opened the world to me and made me comfortable in different settings. With my work, I like to be on the go. I enjoy being immersed in diverse environments. I like to do different things, be involved in numerous projects. With the life that my father gave us, we stayed for two to three years in different parts of the world. The military life of my dad provided me with a strong structure and discipline. I have an international inclusive flair to know how to move and operate in the world.

I also lived at some point in San Bernardino. We went back to Savannah thereafter, the place where many things began for me. I experienced my parents’ home from the early 80s to present. My 80 years old father still lives there with his new wife. I will see them for the Holidays next week.

P.T. When you were growing up, who believed in you and what were your dreams?

P.R. My parents believed in me. They made me feel as the youngest of the three kids and the golden child. The first two are five and seven years older than me. They thought they were done. I came along with the unexpected pleasure [chuckles]. My family is traditional in many ways. As I said my father was a military man. My mom was the traditional church going lady. We were also a let’s sing along family whether rehearsing for a church choir or just mastering a song we loved hearing on the radio. We were a singing family. We enjoyed doing talent shows. Together we used to watch the NBC PrimeTime special while eating popcorn. We loved to watch the stars of the time like Diana Ross. I was enamored with all kinds of art and entertainment. It lifted me as a kid. So, this is how I became the child performer. I was the lion in 4th grade in the production of The Wiz in elementary school. My art interests were nourished. I loved to be the speaker or the presenter. My parents always pressed upon me that education was key but they gave me the freedom to explore different types of arts. I had abilities in science and math as well but they also knew I had a creative gene. They encouraged this.

P.T. So, your dreams were about art.

P.R. I would say art, media and entertainment. I always felt that TV presentation and broadcast journalism would be part of my menu once I became an adult. I also had interests in psychology. Early, I had the curiosity to grasp what makes people tick. I have enjoyed reading and watching things related to the news since my childhood. I wanted to understand behaviors. My father always gave us the option to subscribe to a youth magazine such as Ebony Jr., Junior Scholastic magazine and so on. At 7, I wanted a subscription for publications like Psychology Today because I yearned for knowing more about human relations.

P.T. Were you free to do whatever you wished as a career or your parents wanted you to take a more traditional road? What advice do you have for young people who are struggling with these issues?

P.R. My dad told me to be an engineer because it was known that this field offers opportunities and sustained work in the future. However, when I was in high school and college, it was obvious that my direction and interests were towards arts, entertainment and media. My father made his recommendations but he also knew where I was heading. He supported me in that regard. I countered what he wished me to do with what I wanted to do by making sure I could show effective results with planned preparation. I enrolled into internships and I started to be involved in an Atlanta TV station in Savannah, Georgia. My dad observed that I was ambitious with what I aspired to do. I encourage young people to do the same by putting themselves in rooms of influential people related to what they wish to pursue. These people can push you forward. Even if their parents do not approve of what you want to embrace with your decisions and the steps that you are taking, they will understand your path. They will grasp that your journey is designed for you and that you are doing what it is required to make it happen. You need to be prepared, the more you work the luckier you will get.

P.T. Since your childhood you have been fascinated with the entertainment industry. Many parents want their children to take the conventional road and not embrace a field like art because it does not appear stable to them. What support did you get to make it? In addition, what advice do you have for those who want to get high-profile projects in the entertainment business?

P. R. Even if your parents or your legal guardians do not want you to espouse the art field because of its instability, it is crucial that you take responsibility for getting doors open to you in terms of opportunities while making sure they are fruitful. Also, ensure that the projects you pick are impressive to your family.

I got support from my parents. They saw that I had a vision for myself and that I was serious with my goals. I associated early in my career with the NABJ. It was introduced to me as a student at Morehouse College. At Clark university, the neighboring college I also used to do there extra work in mass media arts. It allowed me to get as much exposure as possible. I was advised that as a student when you enroll into professional associations this is how you find mentoring, internships, job opportunities once you graduate from college or even before. It became important for me to join an organization in journalism that provided professional support for African-Americans. This is how I became a NABJ baby. I got the internship and the scholarship. My parents witnessed how the NABJ assisted me by giving me great opportunities for my career. My father who is in his eighties saw how I evolved professionally. I was 23 when I lost my mom at 54 years old. At the time, I just graduated from Morehouse College and became the vice president of the Atlanta chapter of the NABJ. I was also the finalist for the Atlanta association of the Black journalists Award. This event took place in April 1994 at the Jimmy Carter Center, in Atlanta, Georgia. This nomination was for a piece interview I did with the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin for the local Fox affiliate, Good Day Atlanta. I won the award and my mother was there when I spoke to Franklin. She understood that I warmed the Queen of Soul up by asking her what she thought of the soap opera The Young and the Restless. She was not in the mood but she was delighted to discover I knew about her interests in this TV program. She loved Victor Newman’s character among many others. We even established a friendship up to her death. I attended her funeral in Detroit. As mentioned, my mom witnessed our great award interview. Three months later she passed away at age 54. I feel blessed that she got the opportunity to see that I was making it in the field of my choice even if I was just 23 when I lost her.

P.T. You are a Morehouse alumnus. What kind of foundation this institution gave you and why was it important for you to study at a HBCU?

P.R. It was very important for me. Earlier, I mentioned my global upbringing. I was often in settings with people who did not look like me. I wanted and needed a deeper experience. I studied what AUC (Atlanta University Center) was doing. It is the consortium of historically Black Colleges that include Morehouse, Spelman, Clark University, etc.. It had a great reputation. My sister, seven years my senior, attended Clark. So, this gave me the opportunity to know and learn while being mentored by some of her peers throughout the years. Morehouse is the alma mater of Dr. MLK, Samuel L. Jackson, Spike Lee, Maynard Jackson (the first Black mayor of Atlanta) and the Olympian Edwin Moses and so forth. I wanted to be among these alumni and I stand on the shoulders of these strong men. Morehouse helped to get in touch with the Black man that I am today.

P.T. Well, they did a great job and I am glad to interview for the first time someone from Morehouse.

P.R. [Laughs] I love hearing that!

P.T. I went there. I love to travel. I saw Morehouse and Spelman. When I watched A Different World, it made me dream of visiting these institutions. The first HBCU that I saw was Howard in Washington.

P.R. So, you know what I am talking about. I am definitely proud of the high level of education I had.

P.T. Morehouse produced one of the greatest American intellectuals like Dr. MLK that you named earlier.

P.R. Until today, I maintained a great relationship with Morehouse. I interviewed TV court judge Mablean Ephriam recently and I went to Morehouse with her nephew. We studied accounting together and became friends from that moment. I consider him as a brother and judge Ephriam as an aunt. So, I feel that Morehouse gave me a second family bigger than mine. I am very proud to say that I am HBCU made. The contributions of HBCUs for the world have been amazing for centuries. It produced our first female VP Kamala Harris, a Howard alumnus.

P.T. I would like to add that she is the first VP of your country who also went to high school in my hometown, Montreal. She received a diverse education.
Do you think it is easier today to be gay in America and what about for Black homosexuals?

P.R. I feel I am Black first before being gay in America. I felt gay much longer than I could voice it out loud. I sensed I was gay since the age of 4 but I could not express it before I was 25 because homophobia is rampant. I believe that it is not easy for Black gays to be validated in our truth in the African-American community. In general, gays can be portrayed as less than so nobody wants to be identified with a marginalized community. In this context, it is difficult to come out if homosexuals are being depicted like that in society. I carry it all now because separating Black and gay does not service me. This is all of me. I do understand that I am probably Black before I am gay.

P.T. This is possibly the same situation for everybody in the Black community. For instance, last summer I asked a veiled Black female Muslim how things were for her. She told me that she was perceived Black first before being seen as a Muslim.

P.R. Interesting! Often, in gay circles that do not honor the Black side, I can find out quickly how Black I am [Chuckles]. The inclusiveness of Black is key in all what we do. It is important that we ensure that we are not isolated in places which are supposed to be safe.

P.T. It takes a lot of courage to come out, how was it for you?

P.R. It was not easy because early on I knew how people felt. There was homophobia in the Black church and the Black community as a whole. In school, I wanted to please and be accepted. I felt the need to find a girlfriend with whom I felt comfortable and would not require for me to be amorous all the time. I was not ready to come out in the environment I came from. But with time, experience and maturity, I learned to put words in my truth and I pushed through knowing willingly that everyone would not necessarily come along but most would. I sensed that most people would not make me feel less than or cancel me. I was confident that people would accept me with my authenticity. For those who don’t come along, you need to be ready to continue to live your truth without them. Sometimes, you have to continue to see them even if you know their position and opinion will not change. These are all choices we can make, case by case. I believe it is a much lower load than not coming out at all because in these situations you have to keep up with too much.

P.T. I believe that most people respect integrity and authenticity.

P.R. Definitely, they respect authenticity and vulnerability. Love is much more an organic lean than fear, irrespective of what other people think or perceive of you. If we are in agreement with ourselves most of our personal problems will be solved. When my family members saw how love looked like on me, this is when they allowed me to present that to them. I have been with the same man for 16 years and I took him home in 2005.

P.T. Are you married?

P.R. We are not. When they saw how happy and fulfilled I was, they accepted many things. I don’t believe this would have happened if I did not feel good in my skin and I did not live my truth. I was bold and took the chance to bring someone home at the time. We made a lot of progress.

P.T. You did not have children. How did you make peace with that?

P.R. I never felt so attached to having children. It wasn’t really a life goal for me. It was not exactly because I was gay. In general, I did not envision this path for myself. I have a brother who has a son. I am very close with him. He is my only nephew (I don’t have nieces) and he is very dear to me. I consider him as my son. I invested a lot emotionally and financially into his upbringing. He followed into my footsteps by attending Morehouse. He graduated there in 2010. He moved to NY. I feel that I have a son and it is a success story. He is thriving in the professional field of his choice. I love to mentor young people. It is natural for me. I feel all their love and their accomplishments are mine. I don’t feel lost at all for not having children. I am completely fulfilled in that sense [chuckles].

P.T. There are people with parents who have no idea about their homosexuality even among adults. Some remained silent until their parents passed away. Others spoke and were thrown out of the house. What advice do you have for people who are struggling with these issues?

P.R. I would like to say that I was never thrown of the house, I was lucky because other gays have to deal with this grave issue. Homosexuality has a stigma attached to it and the sexuality of a human being should not be our concerns. My heart bleeds for people who have to deal with individuals who do not love them enough to keep them safe, especially minors who are very vulnerable.

I mentored many young kids in NY via a wonderful organization called Live out Loud. They give the support for the issues you just raised in the gay community. They mentor these kids; they take them under their wings. They give them guidance, provide them scholarships, housing, etc. I would mention that it is important to choose your time to come out. Sometimes, the time is not healthy or right to do it. It may depend on the degree of homophobia that you are dealing with. Personally, my mother was dead before I came out. I took this step later in my life when I felt ready. When I opened this conversation with my father years later, I had the maturity to talk openly about it and he accepted me.

P.T. Was it a surprise for your father?

P.R. It was for him but he simply accepted me. The one person among my siblings I thought would accept me the easiest did not. That was a surprise. So, until today I have to deal with a certain degree of homophobia among this sibling that never existed with my dad. I believe my mother would have eventually accepted my sexual orientation. Again, the recommendation to your question is however you navigate in your coming out, do it by not being attached to the results. If I was attached to the results, I might have been wrong. If I was bound into the idea that the sibling I was the closest who might have accepted me as I am and the reality was something else, I would have ended with expectations that were not met. If this family member was the only egg in the basket to get support, I would have hung out to dry. It is important to be ready for whatever reaction the people you care about might have. You need to lean on where you will find understanding while not expecting too much and be attached to the reaction you will expect because it may not be what you would like. It is not safe to put all your emotions in one person or any person. You just want to be good with expressing your truth. For me, I could have been heart broken when I realized that the sibling who I thought would understand did not. I had to stay well adjusted to whether this family member would come around or not. Finally, this person came around and I was patient. I believe these are the choices that young people need to have the power to make. Make the decisions with whom you will be patient with and dispose of individuals who are not respectful of your preferences.
In addition, there are different areas of life to come out: in the family, among friends, at work, etc. It is important to think carefully about all this and make the best decision for you.

P.T. At the beginning of your career, you thought that you would keep your sexual orientation separate from your professional path. You managed to obtain professional success by living authentically. Many meet difficulties achieving this. How did you manage this and where did you find your strength?

P.R. I thought that compartmentalizing my life was the way to do it. I believed I had to keep my personal life separate from the professional one. I never thought I would marry the two. However, when I started to work with Oprah, I sensed the affirming environment of Harpo productions. Everyone was so friendly while sharing personal information. It simply felt like a safe space. I just grew more comfortable to be myself not just amongst Oprah’s producers but also in my life. And then in 2005, during one of our shows Oprah asked me to turn around the camera on myself and share with her audience my coming out. The theme of the program was When I knew I was Gay. I was nervous to do it because I was not sure how my family would feel.


P.T. Was it planned to come out publicly that way?

P.R. It wasn’t but I felt ready to walk into that fire. I made the decision that it was going bigger for me to do it that way with the huge world audience the show had. I did not have doubts about how the public would receive that. I was more concerned about how my family would react. They were at first embarrassed and not happy with my public declaration in front of millions but with time they came around. It was well received publicly. We got a GLAAD award for this episode. I was over the moon that I chose to take this road. It represented a positive experience for me and it might have been helpful for other people who meet difficulties to come out. In fact, someone came to me later to let me know that this episode changed his life.

P.T. As mentioned, it is difficult for gays to come out and maybe it is harder for Blacks to do it. James Baldwin did it at a time when Black Americans were treated as second class citizens. What does he represent for you?

P.R. He represents everything for me. I stand on James Baldwin’s shoulders likewise for Bayard Rustin. Many people don’t know that Rustin was the architect for the March on Washington with Dr. MLK in 1963. He was an overt and proud Black gay man even if it was quieted.

P.T. I have the feeling that Baldwin was more open publicly about his homosexuality.

P.R. I believe that Rustin was also overt about his sexual orientation even if he did not have a big platform like Baldwin. But sure, James Baldwin was more unconcealed because he had the notoriety with a greater platform and the flexibility of that world with which he could be free. He was an expatriate for several years in France and even beyond that upon his return to America he always had the word with the truth on his side. Again, James Baldwin is everything to me and was ahead of his era including our time. When you read his words in his novel Giovanni’s Room, he presents his conception of love and exposes how racism really is while showing that America is not always on the right side of rectitude. He was mature enough and had the verbiage with the language to articulate all of this at a time where a lot of his work was suppressed. Today it is more celebrated. During his time, some of his work was not published. In 1973, there was an interview that he conducted with Josephine Baker (the first international African-American superstar who was ahead of her time as a singer, dancer, spy, activist, philanthropist, etc.). It was not published by Life magazine because it concerned Black American expatriates. They were sharing their thoughts about their native country during the wake of Civil Rights. Life did not publish it because there was too much truth during this lunch where Dr. Henry Louis Gates was also present.

P.T. I never heard about this interview. I have to look for it!

P.R. I love Baldwin! I believe he left a great legacy and again he was definitely ahead of our time. Rustin’s bequest was about legislation and culture changing in moments’ history. He was more behind the scenes for the labor and civil rights movements. With Philip Randolph, Rustin created the APRI, an institute, a labor union for African-Americans in 1965. There was a posthumous Medal of Freedom given by President Barack Obama in 2013 for Rustin. An American stamp was made in the honor of Baldwin. Both men paved the way for many of us including me. The writings of Baldwin shaped and inspired me to become an author later in my life. He used to say: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced”. His words are still relevant and his contribution is timeless.

P.T. Talk to us about the title of your book That’s What Friends Are For and why was it important for you to share your story?

P.R. That’s What Friends Are For is a song written by Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager. It was first recorded by Rod Steward in the early 80s for the soundtrack of Night Shift. Later in the same decade it became a song with Dionne Warwick, Gladys Knight, Elton John and Stevie Wonder. The single was popularized by them. All the profits were given for Aids research. Dionne Warwick also performed this song with Gladys Knight and Patti Labelle on a HBO special in 1986. The program was named Sisters in the Name of Love. I really enjoyed seeing the collaboration of these amazing Black divas and watching their rendition of Sager’s song. The publisher thought it would be great that I write a book that celebrates all these great Black women given that I interviewed them, promoted them, produced them, etc. I realized that I would love to do that and the title came up. My book has different layers. Some of these ladies became my friends, others are friends in my head. All of them enthused me on different levels and for diverse reasons. When I was growing up as a boy, I did not always connect with other male kids and some of these women gave me comfort with their songs. There were boys who wanted me to play ball with them and I rather listen to Diana Ross while singing.

P.T. [Laughs]

P.R. [Chuckles] It was really nice for me to have these performers as my friends.

P.T. You know, I believe I was born in the right gender. I think it can be so hard to be a man. For example, earlier today, I was watching a French talk show and it was about people who had legal problems at work and so on, some of them ended up in prison, they were wrongly accused of crimes. All of them were men.

P.R. I understand and it can depend on the position we are in. The grass is not always greener on the other side. Empathy is important.

P.T. You may be right because I recently watched an old episode from the first season of Soul Food and one of the characters was relieved to not be a female when he heard her scream while she was delivering her baby [laughs].
Why was it important for you to share your story?

P.R. I wanted to bring some uniqueness in the narrative. I did not wish to place limits on presenting these Black celebrities. I thought by creating a part-memoir book, it would make it somehow distinctive by making it to a degree personal while providing my perspective of what all these Black female stars meant to me since my childhood. It was important for me to share the personal moments I had with Aretha Franklin and others. I wanted to communicate the statistics of how successful they are and it was crucial for me to celebrate some who are unsung. They all are special to me. Some are still alive and others we lost too soon like my mother. It is sad but it is important to talk about those we lost like Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, a longtime friend since our interview that I recounted earlier.

P.T. I think it provides also originality because the public does not often read about the perspective of a Black gay man as an author.

P.R. I wanted my book to be more than pop culture with name droppings. I intended to honor women like Cheryl Pepsii Riley who has a great voice and contributed to Tyler Perry’s body of work in his plays and movies. Riley did covers for Aretha Franklin's 1968 hit "Ain't No Way". As an author, it was essential to write about the contribution of all these females.

P.T. You consider your book as a partial memoir. You talked a little bit about it earlier. Can you elaborate on this for our readers?

P.R. I wanted to include myself in the narrative while sharing my almost 30 year career as an entertainment journalist. It was through my profession that I could meet all these women. Some were my childhood idols. As I celebrated their milestones in their careers, I also commemorated me. I dared to dream and created a career that I am really proud of. In addition, I am at the phase where people would define it as mid-career. So, I thought it was time to share elements of myself and unpacked them. My publisher thought that I am as interesting as my subjects.

P.T. [Laughs] I consider you also as a feminist. It gives your book an appealing perspective.

P.R. [Chuckles] So, I took the challenge to put myself in the narrative when usually this is not done by journalists. I enjoyed it.

P.T. Your hardback is about the women who are or have been special in your life. Name us between one and three women dead or alive who inspire you and tell us why.

P.R. The first one would be Diana Ross, the boss, the eponymous name of her 1979 solo Motown studio album. She resonated early in my life. She became a guiding light. In the late seventies, a school girl introduced me to the newest album of Ross that I just named. Diana Ross had new material and collaborated with young producers. I loved this album and became a fan at that moment until now. I continue to lift her up as a journalist and I have a continuous admiration for her talent. Aretha Franklin is the second one I can name. As I said, she became a lifelong friend after my first interview with her. She is indeed a key woman in my book. Beyoncé would be the third diva and not the least. I had the chance to meet her since her days with Destiny’s Child. In 2007, on her B’Day Tour, my partner Anthony of 16 years flew me to Manila in the Philippines. She serenaded me with Happy Birthday at the end of her show while acknowledging we came from America. This was a gracious gesture from her. This is a special and personal memory for me. We also had the opportunity to see her backstage. I wrote about them in my book. It was important to me to celebrate them.

P.T. I noticed while I read your book that none of the Black females you wrote about seem to be conceited. Their fans among your readers won’t be disappointed.

P.R. They are humble in spite of their professional accomplishments. They are allies and especially for me as a LGBTQ+ member. I felt validated by Diana Ross before I knew I was gay. I felt validated by Nona Hendrix and Labelle in the seventies before I learned about lesbians. I was moved by these women. They do not disappoint and they have become a great source of inspiration.

P.T. There is a lesbian artist you named in your book. I love her voice. It is Monifah.

P.R. Wow, she is a dear friend of mine! As you said, she is in the book and has a wonderful narrative. She definitely pushed the envelope as an artist but still could not call what it was for many years. She spoke in a loving way about my own voice. I adore her and having a great compliment coming from her as a great vocalist is awesome. It was the cherry on top for me. She definitely represents another ally and supporter. She sustained me before she identified herself as part of the gay community.

P.T. Your first queen was your mother. What are the most important life lessons and values that she taught you?

P.R. Queen was part of her name. Her full name was Queen Elizabeth Bellinger Riley. She celebrated, embraced and protected me. We had similar interests. For example, we enjoyed watching soap operas together. She was open-minded and did not think boys should do this, girls must do that. She used to ask me what happened in The Young and the Restless? [Laughs]

P.T. [Chuckles]

P.R. She was the light in the room for many people. When she entered somewhere, people noticed and it changed their heart. I believe it is the legacy she left me. She loved to find solutions, she enjoyed solving problems. This represents what my mom meant to me and this is what I continue to try to be in life.

P.T. Can you name for us between one and three Black female newcomers who you think are at least a triple threat, a prerequisite to achieve longevity in the entertainment industry? Please, share with us their talents.

P.R. Normani who I met with Fifth Harmony qualifies as my first choice. I interviewed the five of them and I just knew there was something with this girl not just because she is the Black one. She just seems to have the it factor. I am not surprised to see her become the solo star that she is. The other members of the group are also expanding in an interesting way. Normani is good at singing, dancing and she has style. She is a pop star triple threat. She represents what Beyoncé and Rihanna were at their beginnings. The sisters Chloe x Halle are on their way also to stardom. They are Beyoncé’s protégées. Chloe has her solo materials. She has many talents. She is an actress/singer and part of the Black-ish franchise, the Grown-ish show, the spinoff where the audience sees the oldest child going to college. Halle has her Disney project coming up. I strongly believe in the ascension of Jazmine Sullivan. She possesses a high caliber voice and brings uniqueness to the music scene. Her peers respect her. For example, the veteran Missy Elliot collaborated with her on the reggae song Need U Bad. Sullivan is a singer/songwriter. She provides quality music like Adele or Mary J Blige. She represents the real deal. These women I just named exhibit stamina.

P.T. I am very strict and it takes me a lot to be impressed by an artist. For instance, this afternoon I was watching an old performance of Sheila E. who was dancing while playing drums. We do not see female artists doing this anymore like in the 80s regarding commercial music.

P.R. When we looked at male or female groups from the 70s (like Earth, Wind and Fire with The Emotions), 80s and some in 90s there were musicians. Now, things are being done with machines, there are no big bands anymore. Tracks and beats are created in the studio while some artists use Auto-Tune. We don’t see live instrumentations like Sheila E. on the drums, Diana Ross with her full orchestra or Klymaxx with the all women band, one of pioneers of Hip Hop. We don’t see this imagery any longer. All the musicality seems to be lost. This artistry is still relevant because for example Sheila E. is being sampled. It is always more difficult to create great new material. I totally agree with your commentary. It is important to be willing to grow, to develop yourself continuously and be a lifelong learner in the entertainment industry and beyond. To achieve longevity, you cannot sit on your laurels. In other words, never settle and be committed to excellence.

P.T. I noticed that most people who became successful took calculated risks. In addition, they had at least one failure and learned from it.
You have been involved for years in the entertainment industry and it is interesting to learn in your book that Blacks actors received more respect by receiving at least 40 Tonys in the major categories compared to the Oscars. How do you explain this phenomenon?

P.R. Stage is a more approachable format despite of past systemic discrimination. Broadway is trying to come back after post-COVID. There are 7 Black playwrights that reopened since September after COVID as byproducts of what went on during the social unrests (George Floyd and so forth) and the lockdown. It came clearer to African-Americans that Broadway needs to bring further inclusivity. Again, the stage is more accessible to Blacks than Hollywood. In fact, TV and films are more defined by the old White boys’ network. They historically excluded Blacks in producing, directing and casting. It created a disparity between the theater world and their world, between the Oscars and the Tonys3 This is how we observe a difference between who is winning or losing. There is improvement but all platforms are systemically or inherently racist.


P.T. It has been a long time like this regardless of the talent. You like to mention Diana Ross often. If it wasn’t for Berry Gordy, how would she get the role to portray Billie Holiday in the seventies that gave her an Oscar nomination?

P.R. In addition there were not more than three Hollywood movies she did in this decade and beyond. Few Black movies were being greenlighted.

P.T. She was great in Out of Darkness. I made a physician-specialist watch it and he loved it. It was a TV movie from the 90s.

P.R. She was nominated for a Golden Globe for her outstanding performance in this film. It was very well-received, critically acclaimed. It is another example that the quality is not the real issue here. It shows that the rules of Hollywood are different from the record industry. The woman who played her sister Zoe in Out of Darkness just died this week. She passed away of cancer at the age of 60. Her name was Rhonda Stubbins White.

P.T. That’s sad.

P.R. Yes, it is. Diana Ross was an executive producer for this film. She wanted these stories to be told and create opportunities to make other talented African-American actors work.

P.T. Many different things are going on. There is misogyny also for example. It seems difficult for society to accept women being successful in different fields. For example, we never heard critics of Elvis for his movies but there was harsh criticism for Madonna regarding her films. Even as a director, it became a struggle for her. Her movie W.E. made little money with no profit in spite of her celebrity status.

P.R. There is a new generation of women who are part of the table like Shonda Rhymes, Ava DuVernay and so forth. They all have interesting narratives. Rhymes wrote the screenplay of Introducing Dorothy Dandridge. She contributed by educating people with her pen about this trailblazer in the movie industry. Dandridge became the first Black female actress who received an Oscar nomination for a lead role. Then, Rhymes was involved as a producer with many other hats for TV shows. She had a clear career map for herself. I have known DuVernay since 2006 when she was a publicist. As a member of NABJ, I was asked to interview Jennifer Hudson for her Dreamgirls movie. That was in 2006 and her mother was present. This interview materialized thanks to DuVernay as a publicist. Years later she became an Oscar nominated directress. She had a vision and goals for herself while managing to concretize this. She wanted to reach another level of success and found a way to do it. Her professional path is inspiring. I wrote about these women in my book and it is one of the reasons I did it because their stories are stimulating. I want to stay on the motivating lane. It is why we are speaking to each other because you are a storyteller and enjoy gathering testimonials around the culture, our advances and sometimes our shortcomings. I love what you represent in that way.

P.T. Thank you!

P.R. I wanted my book to showcase the achievements of these Black women.

P.T. Ava Duvernay succeeded in reinventing herself. As you said she was a publicist and later became a directress. Your example is interesting because she was involved for years in the business and this allowed her to create her network throughout the years. Success rarely happens suddenly and when this occurs often it does not last because the foundation was not strong.
You were the field producer of Oprah legends ball. It was probably very difficult to select the African-American women who would attend. Without naming people were some upset because they felt left out?

P.R. Oprah legends ball was comprised of people that she wished to honor. She wanted younger people to join them to honor them. There was no difficulty, she assembled everyone that she wished to be there. I felt fortunate because everyone she wanted would be the same that I would select. The event felt like my legends ball [chuckles]. I was assigned to interview each of them during the course of a three days weekend at Santa Barbara. It is now considered as a historic event which I am very proud to have been part of. It was nothing short of a dream come true given that I was a little boy who grew up admiring them including Miss Ross. The rule was if you speak to them on day one during the lunch, do not bother them on day two during the gala likewise on day three for the brunch. I did not care what the rules were [chuckles]. I spoke to Diana Ross, all three days.

P.T. [Laughs]

P.R. [Laughs out loud] I like to share that as an example of one time I did not follow the rules because it was Miss Ross and she wanted to talk.

P.T. I have difficulty believing that nobody was disappointed in not being invited.

P.R. Sincerely, it was not the case because the list was so plentiful that it almost feels that everybody was invited. Without sounding pretentious or arrogant, it was such a robust inclusive and generous list. It really is my impression that nobody was missing. It is an honest statement of a feeling. There were no complaints of people in the industry who felt left out.

P.T. Given that you are a writer and you love music, what song did you wish that you penned and why? (I love 80s music and for me, it would be this song https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gkO9us2ZmGg, [laughs out loud!]).

P.R. I hosted an event in the past called all star karaoke. I sang all my favorite songs from my favorite divas of the 70s and 80s: Diana Ross, Jennifer Holliday, etc. But the song that I wish I wrote was penned by Ashford and Simpson. It is called The Boss. It was a wonderful disco anthem written for her in the late seventies after she did The Wiz. At the time, she was liberating herself by becoming independent while she understood above all plans and preparations, there is something called love which will direct you every time. For everything that you are putting in order, God might take you in another direction. The lyrics speak to me especially “love” taught me who was really in charge. During the karaoke I take pleasure in doing a boss choir based on that song. This single represents a life anthem. Love provides joy in people’s lives including mine. I would be a very unhappy person if I just followed the rules and met other people’s expectations while ignoring the power of love and not following my heart. I enjoy the song because I chose to become the boss for myself. The path of love is a fulfilling ride.

P.T. Do you believe that life is 10 percent of what happens to you and 90 percent of how you respond to it? If so, why?

P.R. I don’t know if I agree with the percentages but I tend to believe that life is more about how I react or respond to the circumstances. It is about who we are in the situations that represent our best. This is a question I ask myself through love lost, through grief and through unhappy windows when times seem that your life is in collapse. I am a survivor of a home fire which happened three months ago.

P.T. I am sorry to hear about that!

P.R. I am rebuilding that home. It is a very difficult ordeal to go through. However, this experience allowed me to know more about myself and discover who I truly am. There is no growth without obstacles. My pride had no place in this current terror. I had to get centered and take the required steps. I can see what I am in control of in the reconstruction process. It gives me the opportunity to assess what I do have versus what I do not possess. I am displaced. I live at a friend’s house. It is a readjustment and it challenges my adaptation skills. I received support from the industry and my loved ones. This helps to overcome this difficult experience.

P.T. You look like someone who is very dynamic, who has a lot of energy and who is very positive. I would have never thought that all of this is going on in your life.

P.R. In spite of everything, I had to finish my show and other professional requirements. I wanted to use this ordeal as an example to point out that you cannot control everything in this life. It was difficult to go through this but to some extent how I rebound from this experience also depends on me.

P.T. Longevity cannot be achieved easily. How did you manage to be involved in entertainment journalism for decades and what advice do you have for people who want to embrace your path?

P.R. I was in love with this industry from the beginning. I was willing to work for free. This is how much I enjoyed it. Even though I studied broadcasting, media, arts, etc., I knew I wanted to pursue arts and entertainment. I had long way to cover hard or breaking news but I never lost focus of what I really aspired to do because it became clear to me that I would stay in this field for a long time. Effective networking was definitely beneficial. I stayed in touch with many people during all these years. As I said earlier for example I collaborated in 2006 with Ava DuVernay and it continued when she debuted as a director for Selma. Professional relationships are very important. It is instrumental to achieve longevity. The willingness to adapt to change or pivot is also essential. The industry where I was involved in the 90s is not the same in 2021. The one who loved this field but refused to adapt left the business. Realism and pragmatism are crucial. I was willing to adjust. In addition, I have several interests. I don’t concentrate only on one thing. As you know, I enjoy writing and I would like to continue to pen other books.

Overall, you need to sincerely appraise your skills and interests while not embracing the road that is expected from you. Find out how you can own your space in this world. Learning is a lifelong affair so you need to continuously improve yourself professionally to achieve longevity in your career. To make it long term in the entertainment industry, having the dream is not enough. You always need to progress. You must have the willfulness, determination and talent. As mentioned, never sit on your laurels, there is continually a new height you can aim. This represents the way to live up to pre-eminence. In other words, you must set high standards for yourself to attain durability. You also need to know how to cultivate your network. In general, in the entertainment industry it is important to avoid overexposure to achieve longevity. You also need to espouse teamwork. In any field, to achieve durability it is definitely an asset to be emotionally and socially intelligent. In the entertainment industry, it is often about collaboration, you should be well surrounded. Fatefully, you must be passionate about what you are doing; this will encourage you to continue especially during hard times.

P.T. What advice do you have for minors who came from a disadvantaged background and do not have role models in their immediate environment but want to make it professionally in the career of their choice?

P.R. I believe the playing field is levelled thanks to social media, a global open frontier. You don’t need anymore to be in the loop. It is possible to make your way with the right approach. Personally, I do not respond to everybody. But if the person knows how to proceed in a diplomatic manner, he/she will get a reply from me. People need to own their language. They must be precise and clear about what they are looking for especially when they are reaching out to someone they do not know. They have to be considerate and respectful of their subjects’ time. So, you must be concise. It is helpful to be task specific and ask for constructive feedback from someone who is experienced in the field of your choice. You have to be audacious to progress without being impetuous. It is a question of balance. I believe that with the right attitude, you can find a mentor via social media. If you are truly passionate about your realm, it is your duty to conduct research, to be well-informed about the key players. This will prepare you professionally to connect with them later. These tools may be used for good and it is your responsibility to utilize them properly with the right code of conduct. Achievement is possible for people who feel they don’t have a leg in to network professionally. Even individuals who have easier access to the right people, if they are not ready and do not use the right approach, they will not last.

P.T. We observe that even with people who went to the top. Many eventually fell because they did not have the right social skills: some were difficult to work with, etc.

P.R. Definitely! Even with my fire ordeal, I see prominent people who reached out to me. This certainly would not happen if I was not sociable. I am moved by the support that I am getting from them and they give me great feedback about how they appreciated the assistance that I offered throughout their careers including their own ordeals because it happened in the past that some lost everything after a tragedy. So, now it is my turn to benefit from their kindness. I think you are right. We should all be mindful of others and empathetic.

P.T. Well, your former boss Oprah said that we are all here on this Earth to help each other and I believe she is right.

P.R. Definitely! The information is more accessible if you want it. When we are at the top of the mountain we better not forget about where we came from and our roots. We are all interconnected and interdependent. Nobody made it by him or herself.

P,T. Did you have low points in your career especially when you were starting? If so, what motivated you to pursue it?

P.R. My low points definitely occurred at the beginning of my career when I was a producer for the local Fox affiliation Good Day Atlanta. My mother died during this period. Before she passed away, this position of mine became a confirmation for her that I was on the right path and that I was making it. I won at that time at least one award. I was respected and esteemed in the media entertainment sphere. It became a cause and effect. I was a young successful man for whom it was important to make my mom proud. She saw how I happy I was to be involved in this fun career. I should be on top of the world at the time but my mom passed away. I had to grieve and go to therapy to get over this. Despite the ordeal, I was still able to do my job. This experience happened in the early 90s and in 2005 I was the field producer for the Oprah Winfrey Show. This became the highest of heights. It allowed me to travel to many places in the world on different continents. In 2005, I lost an off-again on-again boyfriend Nene Kodjoe who died suddenly of a heart attack in April 2005. I was fortunate to be in a work environment where I was accepted as I was. I could invite this boyfriend to the Christmas party and I did. However, it became difficult for me to again lose a loved one at the height of my career. I did not know at the time what life had in store for me and what my future would look like. I had an independent contract with Harpo. I was fortunate to receive my salary even if I needed time away from work to heal. It was very respectful. Months later I received a call and the staff let me know that Oprah’s company was willing to send me to Santa Barbara to interview the celebrities for the legends ball if I felt better.

P.T. Wow!

P.R. Imagine being at my lowest of lows and I received a call like that! This became the assignment that got me off the loss of my partner.

P.T. This is amazing!

P.R. So, I have life testimonials of having lows only to spot light in the morning, in other words to see things turn out better.

P.T. You were blessed to have a boss like that, it is not everybody among bosses or employers who have this level of understanding and want the well-being of their staff.

P.R. I am very aware of that and it became a confirmation for me that it was a safe working environment because I could share that I had a male partner. I did not have to compartimentalize several spheres of my life. I know that in many other workplaces, this level of empathy and compassion would be nonexistent. I did not have to be guarded. I am honored that I was out of the closet at the moment that this ordeal occurred. I had great career success during a deep low in life. I consider myself more than blessed. After that high with the Legends Ball, I was asked by Oprah to fly to Chicago for a season finale and after I had the opportunity to go to Malawi with all expenses paid for a year. Many people cried for me because they said that I certainly would have loved to be with Kodjoe in Africa. I made a joke by saying to them: don’t worry I will meet someone in a couple of months.

P,T. [Chuckles] This is funny!

P.R. I did find my life partner after a couple of months as I predicted and we’ve been together for 16 years [Laughs]. I met him during the opening night of Oprah’s production on Broadway for The Color Purple. I was covering for her. So, Oprah brings me luck somehow because she seems to be associated with goodness in different moments in my life. She is like a godmother to me; she represents a light in darkness.

P.T. Her professional journey is extraordinary. I can’t believe that with all she went through since childhood she managed to become the wealthiest Black woman (and probably the richest American self-made female) on the planet. She has outstanding resilience! I hope that she will one day write a book about how to not be deterred by naysayers, to remain positive in spite of hurdles and how to manage to break glass ceilings.

P.R. With her, what you see is what you get. She does not have a façade or a mask. She is really giving and a true philanthropist. She did not forget where she came from and she approaches people with a lot of humanity.

P.T. Mentorship is very important to you. You have been involved with the mentorship program of NABJ. Can you describe the services they offer people who want to embrace the journalism field?

P.R. I tell people all the time that you need to associate with professional organizations whatever you want to do. If you are an accountant there is an organization for that and so forth. These institutions plan conventions, ongoing training, etc. Memberships favor professional networking, they provide internships and scholarships. I took advantage from my youth of the African-American mentors I could have at NABJ and reached out to experts in journalism at my HBCUs Morehouse and Clark. I think other minorities should do the same. If there is a professional association for Native Americans in your field, you should join this organization as well. NABJ is doing a great job to help students in the African-American community to launch their occupations. Personally, my internship with this association helped me to start my career in a TV and radio station. I believe as you climb importantly you should reach back. When I became a member as a student in need at NABJ, I reached out to high school students who were thinking about embracing a future in the journalism field. NABJ offers a wide menu of programs and opportunities: one on one virtual sessions, etc. I sat on their board and so forth.

During the pandemic, NABJ collaborated with companies like Disney and Spotify; I hosted many of the events sponsored by them for NABJ audiences. I would like to take the occasion to add that I am involved in mentoring people from the LGBTQ+ community. I also assist young people from my hometown Savannah in Georgia. I want kids to know that it is possible to make it in the entertainment industry even when you do not have any connections at the beginning, which was my case. When I did my book tour, Savannah played a big host for me and I used this moment to be inspiring for people who want to be involved in the entertainment business.

P.T. Why do you think it is so difficult in the entertainment industry to achieve longevity? Even some people who started very young and made it before the age of 20, have not been able to accomplish that. In addition, do you think the business is harder on women? What solutions do you see for these issues?

P.R. There is no recipe in the entertainment industry; everyone has its own path. I think that everyone’s time is their own moment. I don’t subscribe to the idea that if you did not reach a certain level of success at a specific age, there is little chance that it will happen. I do subscribe to a quote from my dear friend Betty Smith that she coined: “it gets greater later”. My grandfather used to say the same thing.

I will reiterate that if you are looking for the long haul it usually helps if you don’t mind being involved in it for a lifetime. In addition, you need to be able to challenge yourself to be agile to adapt or change direction if necessary. Being polyvalent became more important with time in my field than when I started. I never limited myself. I did not see myself solely as a TV producer but also as a writer, etc. I identified with people who did it all like Spike Lee and Oprah. Throughout the time, we observed the evolution of print and digital. Before, you would never see a print person putting himself in front of a camera. Now, these barriers have disappeared. Being diverse can insure longevity. Opportunities are never lacking, it is a question of being skilled to attract them. A digital platform can be eligible for Emmys (that was not the case five years ago) so you need to be aware of how things are changing and to be able to grasp the prospects that come your way. You can’t allow yourself to be closed minded.

I don’t know if it is harder for women but I think it can be more difficult for them to get a seat at the table. However, I see some progress in the industry especially since the last decade and I believe it is getting more inclusive. I think that the MeToo and Black Lives movements favored inclusion which turned into a way of life. I suppose it created a true bridge for more opportunities. I might argue as a Black gay man that we have a more difficult time even if I am a feminist and I think it is important for women to achieve further equality. To answer your question, it is difficult but things are getting better. I like to remain positive but it is a trying time for all of us.

P.T. Ageism exists in the entertainment industry. I read recently that even for a musical legend like James Brown he could not find distribution for the last album he wanted to release. The quality of music has nothing to do with age. What solutions do you think are required to counteract this phenomenon?

P.R. I think ageism is an ongoing issue. Unfortunately, it is an accepted fact based on how the culture is set up. The entertainment business is a youth oriented industry. The mentality is often about viewing old as unmarketable. This way of thinking is not right but it is the reality. To overcome it, you need to be ready for change or adaptation. A seasoned artist who is used to presenting his artistry in a traditional way with radio and sales as the guide might be willing to explore alternative ways to get their music to their fan base. It could be via home shopping. Prince and Lionel Richie did that when they crossed over as veteran artists. They sold concert tickets with CDs. It became a model that some seasoned artists started to use. Their new music was not played on the radio so they began to utilize these new strategies. Radio is an ageist institution. E-commerce space is important and cannot be ignored. Veteran artists can put their music out there. The old industry with the former billboard chart is discontinued. So, new ways of doing things need to be embraced. Artists must be open to change like streaming, etc. Tony Bennett collaborated with Lady Gaga. This example shows the importance of being willing to work with younger generations. It allows veterans to still be acknowledged that way. So, I believe there are means to work around it. Diana Ross signed a new record contract with Decca Records. She announced it publicly via Instagram. So, this represents another example of a veteran who uses the new technology. Diana Ross has a worldwide fan base including the gay population. Her 80s hit I’m Coming Out is considered by some as the apex anthem of the LGBTQ+ community.

 

P.T. You have the capacity to excel in different realms. We live in a society where people like to put us in a box and do not allow us to expand. It may even be harder for women. What advice do you have?

P.R. If you envision becoming Jack or Jill of all three (versatile and adept at many things), make sure that you are informed of what it takes to do all of them and how to juggle them. For instance, I am committed to becoming a producer, writer and talent promoter, I find ways to communicate in a way that does not put people off and force me to make a choice. I did it in a manner that made people feel comfortable to celebrate the fact that I had these talents which could be utilized. When I did my coming out on Oprah there was never a question of: would I be able to deal with appearing in front of a camera? The team knew that I had the skills for it. Where you can have your multiple talents, fly is where you want to be. Not all places and spaces will celebrate that; you need to assess these aspects while taking the pulse. Some workplaces are very rigid, others are more flexible and encourage innovation or initiatives. Throughout my professional trajectory I made sure that I found myself in settings that favor these factors. They did not mind seeing me juggling different skills as long as I was doing it well. It is not enough to say I can do this; you need to demonstrate it and in other words you have to pass the test.

P.T. Many people talk and what they say has nothing to do with reality. As they say, talk is cheap!

P.R. Definitely! You test it with the internship, the volunteer work. You test it in places that allow you to do more than one thing. It gives you the opportunity to see what works and what doesn’t. Afterwards, you gain credibility to use this when you are looking for a job. You will be confident and you will know how to pitch yourself. You are the captain of your professional journey; it is up to you to show what you are all about.

P.T. Gandhi said: “As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him”. How do you professionally and personally try to be the change you wish to see in the world?

P.R. I am the change I want to see in the world simply by being authentic, loving, joyful, vulnerable and focused. When I put this into test every day, I see the world change before my eyes.

P.T. What are your future projects that you can share with us? It has been mentioned that there would be the possibility of an audio book and a film/TV adaptation of That’s What Friends Are For. How are these things evolving?

P.R. We have not sold the auction of the book yet for a TV film adaptation. There is not yet an audio book. These projects stalled when COVID kicked in. I lost tour dates for the rest of 2020. During this time, I pivoted into the virtual world and digital projects came to me. It became a way for me to get revenue streaming. Last year, I was approached by Crew TV (a digital network for reengaged women from NYC) to make a check in with the females featured in my book. I was also asked to talk to the men who love them. The show would be in a half hour format each month showcased on the Internet and it would be called Inspired with Patrick R. Riley. So far, I did 25 inspirational interviews, 6 mother’s days with 15 women from my book: Shanice, Daphne Maxwell Reid, Jenny Lumet Lena Horne’s granddaughter and an important executive at CBS, Tasha Smith’s twin sister Sidra Smith, Jody Watley, Jennifer Holliday, etc. I also interviewed men like Tito Jackson, Bruce Sudano, Donna Summer’s husband. We spoke about where they were in their careers and I asked them what motivated them to become the people that they are today. We also talked about current subjects like how they adapted to the pandemic and so forth. We’ll see what new episodes will be presented in 2022. The show is being funded by Chan Zuckerberg, an initiative gifted to me as a NABJ Black Press Grant (and a donation). This will help to produce the second season and I already used some of it to do episodes in December. The grant was based on what they saw in the previous episodes.

The movie STEPS that I did is now available on streaming. I play Rudy in it. The film was executively produced by Shaquille O’Neal and others. My character is a crazy gay man. It is my acting debut. When I was young, I made a deliberate choice to put singing and acting aside even if I studied it. Like Oprah said I felt that these kinds of opportunities will find me.

P.T. The most important thing is to be ready and prepared when these projects come to you.

P.R. Exactly! It did find me. I almost rejected it given that Rudy is gay. I did not want to start with a role similar to me like if I was simply playing myself. But I walked through that door confidently with great training provided by the acting coach Tracey Moore with the wonderful casting director Penwah. I did the required work to bring Rudy to life. The entertainment field gave me a space for healing and a way to express myself that I could not really do in my own life. It really touched my heart and it continues to because people noticed my work.

P.T. Years ago, there was a gay character that I thought was so funny in a sitcom. It was the Asian guy who played Adam Benet in Half & Half.

P.R. Oh, yes! You are talking about the Filipino guy right?

P.T. Yes, his name is Alec Mapa.

P.R. I met him, I loved him in this sitcom and I told him about that. Someone should write a new part for me [chuckles]. Half & Half was one of my favorite shows at the time.

P.T. Are you planning to write another book? If so, what would be the theme?

P.R. Everybody wants the men who inspired me. There are so many to write about. I had a divine inspiration to pen about the women who influenced me. It was already penned in my head before I put my ideas on paper. It will take a lot of work to make the men who inspired me as special as the women who moved me. It won’t necessarily be my next book. I met several photographers who would be interested to create a companion version of the women who inspired me. It could be a coffee table portrait of these females. 10 years ago, I had an idea for a book but meanwhile CNN did an edited essay series about gay men and their best girlfriends called Big Willie and Amazing Graces inspired by the popular sitcom Will & Grace. I brought diversity in my version that I pitched and did not get greenlighted. I will have to do more work on it. My brain is always on about what my next book should be. I do want to continue to write.

P.T. You definitely should. With all the celebrities that you know, I have the feeling that you could be a great biographer.

P.R. Thank you!

P.T. Thank you for taking the time with this interview. It was a great pleasure to speak to you and I am happy that our worldwide readers will discover more things about you! I wish you more success in all your future endeavors!

The hardback can be purchased on amazon.com, .co.uk, www.barnesandnoble.com, or at a Black-owned book-seller near you. 

 

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An interesting interview with Patrick Riley to listen:  https://www.wclk.com/arts/2019-10-19/upfront-featuring-patrick-l-riley-troy-powell-and-ronald-williams-audio

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1 Source : https://www.blackpast.org/global-african-history/haitian-soldiers-battle-savannah-1779/
2 Source : Black Stats, p.36, Monique W, Morris, 2014
3 More than 70 Tonys were given to Black Americans for Broadway plays