Before Riley Richards left elementary school, he knew he wanted be a professional saxophone player.
He says he’d go to concerts with his parents, and become drawn to the profound energy of the musicians on stage. By 10 years old he was learning to play the saxophone and by the age of 14 he had his first local gig.
But Richards says his personality didn’t match the liveliness of the musicians he saw on stage. He says he felt shy and isolated.
It was hard for Richards to connect with other kids his age. While other children were getting their homework done and then running around parks or watching lots of TV, Richards and his sister were home for the night, doing homework, attending to chores.
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Chores that included helping Dad with things around the house, such as painting or plumbing, and then it was time to play their instruments.
On Friday nights, when the other students from Richards’ school were at after-school dances, Richards was still home, cutting the lawn. “The next day they would talk about how great it was,” he says, “And I could never join the conversation because I was never there!”
When Richards was 15, his isolation turned into introspection driven by a negative voice inside his head. By the time he graduated high school, he struggled to look people in the eyes during conversation, and, because of it, he’d shy away from conversations altogether. “I started to think that something was truly wrong with me.”
In 2009, Richards got a job at a Cleveland public library as a security guard, and then eventually as a custodian. He would get music gigs here and there, mostly on the weekends.
But after a few years of the same kinds of gigs, Richards says he realized that his aspirations he’d had as a little kid—to play music as his full-time job—wasn’t going to happen.
“I hit a wall. It seemed like musical journey was over. My level of depression was high. The whole realization really made me question my purpose in life, if I was worthy of anything. This was definitely my rock bottom moment.”
The Turning Point
In November 2015, Richards got a call from Carla Brown, an old friend and talent buyer and promoter at the time. His favorite saxophonist, Najee, was performing soon and she asked him to attend.
Richards attended the show and in the middle of the performance, was baffled when Najee called his name, and asked him to come onstage with him.
What Richards didn’t know was that Brown had invited Richards hoping that Najee would become his mentor, and get Richards back to his musical career.
It worked and then some. Richards traveled around the world—even to Africa—with Najee, learning all he could from Najee.
In December of 2015, Najee introduced Richards to Darren Rahn, a producer, who teamed up with Richards. In a leap of faith, Richards quit his library job in February 2016, at 31, to work with Darren.
That May, his first song, “Family Ties,” hit the radio. Shortly after the song debuted, it hit the Billboard charts and stayed on it for 15 weeks.
Since then, he’s had four chart topping songs including his latest song, “Captivate Me”, which hit the Billboard charts in July 2019, and was on it for a total of 10 weeks, 2 of those in the #1 spot.
Richards recognizes that surrounding himself with good people, like Brown, Najee, and Rahn, helped him get to where he is. “If you surround yourself with individuals that truly care, before you know it, you’ll be the person you’ve always wanted to be.”
That panned out with his inner voice too. “There were times in my life that I felt I had no value or had anything to offer anyone! I was till looking for validity, I guess. My mentor would tell me all the time to take the phrase ‘I can’t’ out of my vocabulary and see what you accomplish from that alone.”
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