Sidney Riley: More to the Story
Taylor Harrington 12/8/2021 4:11pm EST
Sidney Riley is a songwriter and singer originally from Washington, D.C. He has been involved with music since childhood. At age 9, he learned to play the piano and discovered his passion for singing as a cast member of “Children’s Choice,” a popular children’s British television show, filmed in the Middle East. Later, he started an Acappella group and began writing original music and had the opportunity to sing at the Kennedy Center Honors with Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles. His passion for music and songwriting continues today.
His personal achievements are nothing short of miraculous. During his senior year of high school, he fell critically ill with a rare disease that had him fighting for his life in a coma for several months, overcoming a 1% chance to live. He was told he would never walk again. After many months of rehab, which included re-learning how to walk again, Sidney shocked his friends and family when he walked unassisted across the graduation stage, with the full chamber choir by his side. Shortly after, he made a full recovery, moved to New York City for college, and graduated from Fordham University. Sidney credits his recovery in part to the role music played in his life by keeping him motivated through that difficult time and giving him a sense of purpose.
Since then, Sidney has made music his priority. He is currently involved in several projects for himself, as well as other artists from various genres, and he is always working to collaborate and expand upon his portfolio.
We had the amazing opportunity to get to know Sidney Riley better and we cannot wait to share his incredible story of perseverance, strength, and hope. Riley is a storyteller whose music feels both relatable and whimsical while it has you hitting repeat as you dance around the kitchen daydreaming about your next big move. Sidney Riley’s music, such as “Villian” and “Exposure” are available everywhere now, and Riley can be followed on Instagram @IamSidneyRiley.
“I was senior in high school and wrote songs, initially poems, that turned into songs, but music, in general, wasn’t something I took super seriously at the time. I was thinking I would be a soccer player to be honest, but then I was on a retreat with our high school and fell deathly ill while I was there. I had something that’s called acute viral myelo encephalitis and meningitis, which is both viral encephalitis and meningitis, basically. While I was on this retreat, I ended up going to the hospital later and they didn’t really know what was wrong with me. They did a few spinal taps, and then discovered this, and they didn’t have the capability to look after me properly there. The way my mom describes it, it was one of those, like, snowy nights type of thing. They wanted to get a helicopter to transport me, but then by the grace of God, good people, and community, there was an ambulance crew that was literally getting off the shift that like my mom and offered to help put chains on the ambulance tires and then literally drove me in this blizzard two hours to Georgetown, where there was an open bed for me. As soon as I got there I had a seizure and slipped into a coma. I was in a coma for two months, I woke up and I was paralyzed from my neck down, and I basically had to learn how to do everything again. Slowly, little by little, over the next year, I started to get my life back.
When you woke up from the coma were you aware that you were in a hospital, or what was your last memory?
My first memory of waking up was that, I looked over and my mom, my dad, and my sister are on the right side. My mom panicked. Early on was I was asking for orange juice in a purple cup, so I guess that was the last memory I had. I don’t remember asking for that, but I guess that was the first thing I was wanting. So it seemed like, I guess time, just kind of skipped past me while I was asleep, but I had a few very vivid dreams.
The dreams were so very real. They were more real than reality if that makes it makes sense.
You went through this crazy thing, which no one could have planned to have happened, you know? If you’re playing soccer, you put on the shin guards because you know there’s a chance of your shins getting hurt, but there’s nothing you could have done to have prevented this illness from happening to you. So then learning to come out of that and find yourself again, I believe your first time walking unassisted after coming out of your coma was during your high school graduation?
Yeah. I was in a wheelchair for a while, then I graduated to a walker. From a walker, I went to two canes, and then one cane. I don’t even know if I was nervous for graduation, but I just kind of decided to do it.
You did it, and the video is beautiful. Everyone just standing up and surrounding you in applause. How were you able to go through all of this heavy stuff but then find your voice on the other side?
Honestly, it was like a light switch went off. I remember even when I was a soccer player, I could think about and see soccer in different ways, but then after I came out of it (the coma), I couldn’t connect with the game the same way anymore. At the same time, it’s like it just switched to songwriting for me. I don’t feel bad about it, it was just really odd. I don’t know. I don’t even remember enough to be sad about it, but I was just like, ‘Okay, yeah, now we’re all committed to songwriting.’ Music was a passion that I was excited about that I just kind of discovered, you know?
What is your songwriting process?
It’s funny. I’m usually a melody-first type, what I guess a lot of songwriters will call “top line”. I carry my phone and record voice memos and I’m thinking about stuff all the time. Once I get something that I’m like, ‘Oh, I like this. This is good.’, then I’ll kind of try to build on it from there.
I love that! How can our listeners, readers, and viewers find and listen to your music or catch you live?
My website is www.IamSidneyRiley.com. That’s more informational, to be honest with you. I try to live on Instagram as much as possible these days and my handle is @IamSidneyRiley. Luckily, now that things are kind of opening up again, I’m looking forward to getting back out there a bit. I’m going to be doing some shows in New York initially and then around the DC area as well.
That’s so exciting! There’s literally nothing better than live music and being in a room where you can spread this kind of joy. I know that your mom is a huge part of your life and she actually wrote a book about the experiences your family had during and after the time you were ill and in a coma. What can you tell us about the book, “Adam’s Angels”?
I got sick and I got better, but my whole story is not really about me it’s more about the community of people that came together to move forward to accomplish something together, which was getting me better. There’s are the people at the ambulance, people in community, my high school that supported me and my mom while I was in a coma. Some people came to our house to help cook for us and clean for us while she (my mom) was at the hospital with me. They say it takes a village, but the story, and my story, is really about the community that came together. I think it’s more important to focus on them and what can inspire us. She wrote this book based on being a mental medical advocate for loved ones and the question of how does that work? What’s okay to push for? What’s not? My mom is what you would call pleasantly persistent. I’m here today because of her, among so many other people, that helped me. I think part of what the book is about is how to be a medical advocate for family members for loved ones when they’re in these dire situations, but it’s also about building a community around that. She wants to kind of pay it forward, so whether she knows you or not, it’s irrelevant. My mom is there to be a support system for people that need it, and I think it was therapeutic for her too, because she went through a lot with me being sick like that. The first night that I arrived at the hospital, there were two other people that arrived with meningitis alone, and they passed that night, so I’m sure it was traumatic for her as a mother. I think it’s, if anything, a good reflection of what we are capable of.
That’s such a beautiful thing, and it’s so true. None of us would be where we are today without the person behind us or in front of us, so we need to just look out for each other.
Totally, by all means.
What kind of advice would you give to another young artist that might be trying to find their voice or pave their own path?
One piece of advice I would give is to be confident in yourself, in your ability. Take it one day at a time, one bite at a time. Really focus on what you’re passionate about. I would also tell you to look for like-minded, positive, people and work to collaborate with good people that you can learn from as well.
Where would you like to see yourself in five years, both personally and professionally?
You know, I obviously would like to still be doing music– writing music, singing, continuing to do that. I really just want to be in a position where I have my health continued and I’m able to still get up every morning and live a life of passion and, you know, try to spread that and keep collaborating with great people along the way.
Originally from Edison, New Jersey, Taylor won the 2005 “Middlesex County Caring Award”, and hasn’t stopped caring since. When she is not writing for Confessional Magazine or hosting “More to the Story”, Taylor can be found chasing her two mutts around Austin, Texas where she currently resides with her husband.
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