Brooklyn-born folk artist Richie Havens has died of a heart attack at the age of 72. Havens was famous for his gritty-voiced, impassioned interpretations of other artists’ songs, from The Beatles’ “Here Comes The Sun” to Billie Holiday’s “God Bless The Child.” He was also revered for his unique acoustic guitar-playing style, which revolved around open tunings and lightning-fast strumming.
When other performers were delayed from reaching the grounds of the Woodstock Festival in 1969, Havens found himself unexpectedly opening the show. His two-hour-plus performance (Havens was asked to keep stalling) ended in an improvised song he later dubbed “Freedom,” an inspired riff on the folk music ballad “Motherless Child” that became his calling card.
A representative for Havens released the following statement:
“Richie Havens was gifted with one of the most recognizable voices in popular music. His fiery, poignant, soulful singing style has remained unique and ageless since his historic appearance at Woodstock in 1969. For four decades, Havens used his music to convey passionate messages of brotherhood and personal freedom. Billboard Magazine writes, ‘This acoustic soul giant truly seems to be getting more inspiring and graceful with age.’ From Woodstock to The Isle of Wight to Glastonbury to the Fillmore Auditorium to Royal Albert Hall to Carnegie Hall, Richie played the most legendary music festivals that ever were, and most of the world’s greatest concert venues. But even when performing in a Greenwich Village coffeehouse or a small club or regional theater, he was eternally grateful that people in any number turned up each time to hear him sing. More than anything, he feels incredibly blessed to have met so many of you along the way.
“While his family greatly appreciates that Richie’s many fans are also mourning this loss, they do ask for privacy during this difficult time.”
In March, another memorable Woodstock performer, Alvin Lee of Ten Years After, died at the age of 68.