Theatrical producer Voza Rivers was born on December 27, 1942 in Harlem, New York City. He graduated from George Washington High School in 1961. Rivers obtained his A.S. degree in police science from the College of Police Science and served as a Detective in the New York City Police Department. He received his B.A. degree from John Jay College of Criminal Justice and later completed his studies for the M.A. degree in Communication Arts from New York Institute of Technology, in New York City.
In 1964, Rivers joined Roger Furman’s New Heritage Theatre, and became New Heritage Theatre Group’s executive producer in 1983. Rivers expanded New Heritage Theatre Group’s division and focus by producing a series of South African plays and collaborating with black South African playwright Mbongeni Ngema in the 1980s, educating theatergoers about the horrific impact of the apartheid struggle.
The first South African play, Woza Albert!, heralded for its satirical take on Apartheid, won over twenty awards worldwide. The second collaboration, Asinamali!, went to Broadway and was nominated for a TONY Award. Rivers received acclaim for the introduction and presentation of the third collaboration with Lincoln Center Theatre, Sarafina! the South African musical by Ngema, depicting students involved in the Soweto Riots in opposition to apartheid. The TONY and GRAMMY nominated Sarafina! premiered on Broadway in 1988 at the Cort Theatre, and following 597 performances and 11 previews, closed in 1989.
In 1997, together with playwright, author, director and educator Jamal Joseph, Rivers co-founded the youth group IMPACT Repertory Theatre, nominated for an OSCAR and GRAMMY for Best Song for the film August Rush in 2008.
Rivers has produced award-winning works Off-Broadway as well as productions at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Manhattan School of Music, Hunter College, Columbia University, City College-Aaron Davis Hall, Carnegie Hall and the world famous Apollo Theater; and has worked with artists including Nina Simone, James Brown, Ray Charles, the Count Basie Orchestra, Tony Bennett, Max Roach, and Celia Cruz.
He has produced more than 1500 events including music events and concerts featuring world-renowned artists in the U.S., South Africa and Japan. He has also produced for artists such as: Nancy Wilson, Ruby Dee, Luther Vandross, Ashford and Simpson, Boy George, George Benson, Tito Puente, Lionel Hampton, Isaac Hayes, Little Jimmy Scott, Miriam Makeba, and Chaka Khan. Films executive produced by Rivers include: Hughes Dream Harlem (Langston Hughes), Sutton: A Man for All Seasons (Percy Sutton), A-Alike (2003 Oscar nominated student film), Lifted (2007) and The Savoy King: Chick Webb & the Music That Changed America (2012).
Rivers has served as chairman of the Harlem Arts Alliance since 2001. From 2015, he has served also as the executive producer of Harlem’s Gertrude Jeannette's The H.A.D.L.E.Y. Players theatre. He is currently the 1st Vice-President of The Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce and is also the Executive Producer and Vice Chairman of HARLEM WEEK.
Voza Rivers was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on April 29, 2018.