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RIP Richie Havens, Folk Singer And Guitarist Who Kicked Off Woodstock
April 22, 2013
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Richie Havens, the first musician to perform at the legendary Woodstock festival, has died. He was 72.

Havens was born in Brooklyn. He was the oldest of nine kids, and he got started as a performer young, organizing neighbourhood children into street corner doo-wop groups.

He started his on-stage career with The McCrea Gospel Singers when he was 16. At 20, he left Brooklyn and moved to Greenwich Village, where he started out performing poetry, picking up a guitar a while later.

Once he did, Havens became well-known for his excellent cover songs. One of the best-known was his version of Dylan's 'Just Like A Woman'.

Check out Havens performing the tune in 1974:

A few years earlier, Havens' career hit a major turning point when he was the first musician to hit the Woodstock stage. He played for nearly three hours, partly because other acts were having trouble reaching the festival on time.

He held the crowd's attention brilliantly, though, getting called back for several encores. And when he ran out of material, he just went ahead and improvised a song based on the spiritual 'Motherless Child'. It ended up becoming his tune 'Freedom'.

Later in life, he talked about how Woodstock shaped his career and his life (he returned to the festival grounds in 2009 for the 40th anniversary):

"Everything in my life, and so many others, is attached to that train," he told The Associated Press.

After his success at the festival, Havens started his own record label, Stormy Forest, and put out his first album, 'Stonehenge', in 1970.

His first big hit single was a cover of 'Here Comes the Sun'.

He also performed live on The Ed Sullivan Show and the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. When he was on Carson, the audience applauded his performance all the way through the commercial break - Carson asked him back the next night.

In the early '70s, Havens made the move to acting. He was in 1977's 'Greased Lightning' with Richard Pryor, and in '87 he appeared in 'Hearts of Fire', the Bob Dylan film.

He was also a passionate advocate for the environment. In the '70s, he co-founded the Northwind Undersea Institute, an oceanographic children's museum in the Bronx, where kids could learn about ecological issues.

That led to the creation of The Natural Guard, an organization that helps kids "learn that they can have a hands-on role in affecting the environment," according to Havens.

Havens kept performing throughout his life, playing at the 1993 inauguration of President Clinton, the Tibetan Freedom Concert in 1999, and the 2008 Cannes Film Festival Opening Ceremony, where he sang 'Freedom' for his friend and fan Sean Penn.

In 2003, he was awarded the American Eagle Award by the National Music Council for his place in the country's musical heritage.

And he released his last studio album, 'Nobody Left to Crown', in 2008.

His philosophy was all about sharing his love of music with the audience.

"I really sing songs that move me," he told The Denver Post. "I'm not in show business; I'm in the communications business. That's what it's about for me."


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