This Quilt Block was made by Emmy-Award-winning actress Sheryl Lee Ralph, honoring her friends who were artists and performers from the Black community who died of HIV/AIDS.
Two of the artists featured are Gene Anthony Ray of the acclaimed movie and (later TV show), Fame and actor and musician Larry Riley, who was well known for his portrayal of Calvin Barnes in the NBC daytime soap opera The Doctors.
Sheryl Lee made part of this Quilt in Jackson during a panel making workshop at New Bethel A.M.E. Church.
Gene Anthony Ray grew up in Harlem, home to many iconic dance trends. Though Ray was not trained as a dancer, he honed his skills at block parties. Parties were a staple in New York City, and Ray hit all the scenes, including the ballroom, and scooped up all the prizes. No one could tell him he wasn’t the best disco mover around.
At only 17 years old, Ray skipped school to go audition for a dance movie. He was one of 2,800 teenagers trying out for a part, but all Ray wanted to do was dance. Little did he know this choice would change his life.
Ray became known as Leroy Johnson of the acclaimed movie and later TV show, Fame.
Ray embodied the song in his hips as he moved to the rhythm … Can you feel it? Can you feel it? CAN YOU FEEL IT? Yes, he might have been a little wild, but he was a sight to behold. Fame choreographer Louis Falco told the Daily Telegraph that watching Ray dance was like discovering Fred Astaire for the first time. At the height of Ray’s success, he had two secretaries to answer some 17,000 fan letters he received daily. But things got harder. From drug and alcohol addiction to family tragedies to sleeping on park benches.
Then in 1996, somehow life got even harder … Ray was diagnosed HIV Positive.
—And suffered a stroke in 2003.
Yes, a partier, but Gene Anthony Ray was an athlete, and living proof that health is fragile, no matter how active you are.
But Gene Anthony Ray is still here … because of his friend Sheryl Lee Ralph’s commissioned panel, we have details and trinkets that symbolize who Ray was …
A dancer, a performer, a teenage Black icon: Leroy Johnson, a friend, and a son.
To friends, he was Larry. To the world, he was Larry Elder, known as an actor and a musician.
Larry Riley was born in Memphis, Tennessee—a place full of culture, community, and music. That’s where he found his roots, acting in high school and Memphis State, before making his professional debut in musicals like Shakespeare’s Cabaret and, in Dreamgirls, playing the coveted role of “Curtis’, and soap operas The Doctors, and Knots Landing.
Larry struggled with alcohol and drug addiction, and, in 1989, he got enough courage to check himself into rehab, only to find out he was HIV positive the next year.
Larry didn’t want people to look at him differently, so he never told his job, or friends—he never told anyone but his wife. When Larry started to lose weight, he told people he was suffering from kidney failure. But still showed up for his role on Knots Landing till the day he died. On June 6, 1992 … in Burbank, California, fourteen days after his 39th Birthday.
—But Larry Riley is still here ... because of his son, his wife, friends, and family, who’ve done so much to keep his memory alive. The Ostrander Awards in Memphis presented the Larry Riley Award to young collegiate thespians on the community theatre scene every year since his death.
Friends like Sheryl Lee Ralph commissioned Larry’s panel. Adorned with influences of theater and other interests he had right on it—a great way to know Larry Riley without ever meeting him.
It's time to Change the Pattern in the fight to end HIV and AIDS in the Southern United States. Be a part of this new initiative!