Herlin Riley was born in New Orleans, Louisiana into a musical family, and first began playing the drums at the age of three. He studied trumpet throughout high school and for two years of college, but his interest in the instrument waned and he began to focus again on drums.
He has made recordings with Marcus Roberts, Dr. John, Harry Connick Jr, George Benson, Bennie Wallace, and Mark Whitfield. He has also played in theatrical performances, including One Mo’ Time and Satchmo: America’s Musical Legend.
Riley is a regularly featured musician at Jazz at Lincoln Center, and played a large part in developing the drum parts for Wynton Marsalis’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Blood on the Fields. He is a lecturer in percussion for the jazz studies program at the Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL.