Philadelphia Singer Arrested for Performing in Park
SCOTT SIMON, host:
It ought to be a crime for some people - me, for instance - to sing, but Anthony Riley, who has a really nice voice really has been criminally charged for singing after he belted out a number in Philadelphia's Rittenhouse Square.
He's been charged with disorderly conduct and is scheduled to appear on court on Tuesday. Students from the Curtis Institute of Music often go into the park to practice and enjoy each other's performances, but Mr. Riley was singing at nine o'clock at night, some of the residents at the Square complained.
Joining us now from Rittenhouse Square is Anthony Riley. Mr. Riley, thanks very much for being with us.
Mr. ANTHONY RILEY (Resident, Philadelphia): No problem. How are you today?
SIMON: I am fine. Thank you, sir. The police say that you got to get a permit if you're going to sing in the park. Did you know that?
Mr. RILEY: I was one of the first ones to find out, actually.
SIMON: So you found out the hard way, I'd say, yeah.
Mr. RILEY: Yeah, pretty much that.
SIMON: So you've sung in the park without any incident before.
Mr. RILEY: Singing in Rittenhouse Square is something that's a time (unintelligible) tradition, and even as a child, you know, being downtown, I've seen just people playing guitar, singing, just pretty much hanging out in the park. That's what it's for.
SIMON: I think the sticking point seems to be nine o'clock at night. Apparently, the residents think the singing, beautiful as it is, can go on just a little too late for their taste.
Mr. RILEY: And I think that's something that definitely has to be taken in the consideration. However, the city ordinance states that you're allowed to perform in the streets up until 10 o'clock.
SIMON: You want to be a professional singer?
Mr. RILEY: Yes. I've done nothing but sing all my life. That's where I get my joy from.
SIMON: And you were singing a Sam Cooke song when you were busted.
Mr. RILEY: Yes, "Change Is Gonna Come."
SIMON: You know, we're put in a difficult position when we're talking to you, Mr. Riley, because we're told you have a beautiful voice and we'd love to hear it but you're in Rittenhouse Square, and we both know that you can't sing in Rittenhouse Square without a permit and we don't want you...
Mr. RILEY: Quite a dilemma.
SIMON: ...we don't want someone to come there and put the cuffs on you again.
Mr. RILEY: Well, actually, I think that we can go outside of the park.
SIMON: Let me ask you a couple of questions first, if I could. The American Civil Liberties Union has gotten involved and they say that music is like speech and speech is protected in public parks.
Mr. RILEY: It definitely is protected and there needs to be a clear definition on what the letter of the law is.
SIMON: Well, and to restate the city position, they say you're free to sing. It's just you have to get a permit to sing because there are people living in the area and that's a public park.
Mr. RILEY: Right.
SIMON: Are you standing outside the park now, Mr. Riley?
Mr. RILEY: Yes, I am.
SIMON: We'd love to hear you sing.
Mr. RILEY: Okay.
(Soundbite of music)
SIMON: Do you have an accompanist there, Mr. Riley?
Mr. RILEY: Yes. I'm (unintelligible) set up right now.
SIMON: Okay, what's his name? We ought to know.
Mr. RILEY: Robbie Torres(ph).
SIMON: And well, no, it's not nine o'clock at night.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. RILEY: (Singing) I was born by the river in a little tent. Oh, and just like a river I've been running ever since. It's been a long, long time coming but I know, oh, I know that a change is gonna come. Oh, yes, it is. It's been too hard living. I'm afraid to die 'cause I don't know what's up there beyond the sky. It's been a long, a long time coming. But I know, oh, I know that a change is going to come. Oh, yes, it is. It's been a long, a long time coming but I know, oh, I know that a change is gonna come. Oooh(ph), yes, it is. Hmm.
SIMON: You sing beautifully, Mr. Riley.
Mr. RILEY: Thank you very much.
SIMON: I hate to sound like some kind of a low-level Simon Cowell but I think it's only a matter of time before you'd get handsomely rewarded for a beautiful voice like that.
Mr. RILEY: Well, I really appreciate that.
SIMON: Mr. Riley, also good talking to you, and thanks for singing for us, too.
Mr. RILEY: Hey, I definitely appreciated the time.
SIMON: Speaking with us from the streets of Philadelphia, Anthony Riley.
(Soundbite of music)
SIMON: Wake up Rittenhouse Square. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
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