Richie Havens, the folk singer who is best remembered for being the opening act at the famed 1969 Woodstock Festival, and who had a career of singing songs of hope, protest, and change, died today at the age of 72 of a heart attack, reports his family via NBC News.
The Brooklyn-born artist made an art out of playing folk songs on his acoustic guitar, a latter-day Woody Guthrie if you will, but with a bit more bite and a slight hand in social commentary. Two songs have immortalized him, both shown in the Woodstock film which showcased his appearance – “Handsome Johnny” and “Freedom.” Both songs spoke of the polarizing and opinionated hotbed of controversy from many sides and points of view about the Vietnam War, which was splintering The United States at the time. With a simple strumming method which still had much energy and verve to it, Havens was a highlight at the festival, which at its peak was attended by over 250,000 people.
It led to a varied and creative career afterwards in which his presence became highly felt in the music community. His cover songs of Bob Dylan’s “Just Like A Woman” and The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” were standouts. Havens’ original material was also challenging and thoughtful and his works remain much recommended to a casual fan who only knew of him by way of Woodstock trivia.
Havens toured constantly and made various appearances at high profile gigs like Bill Clinton’s 1993 Presidential Inauguration. All in all, he released over 25 albums during his lifetime, most of which were, in his words to The Denver Post during an interview with them, “songs that really move me, I’m not in show business, I’m in the communications business. That’s what it was about for me.”
Eloquent words were never truer spoken. It transcended to the man himself too. I had the pleasure of meeting him face to face once about 15 years ago, and he was one of the nicest, sweetest, most interesting people one could ever meet. His loss will be felt in ripple waves throughout the music community, some who followed him his whole career, and some who are now hearing of him and his rich body of work for the first time.
Rest in peace to Richie Havens, a true blue sincerely creative and erudite artist, American, and a wonderful human being.
RIP – Richie Havens
January 21, 1941 – April 22, 2013