Richard Pierce “Richie” Havens was an American singer-songwriter guitarist who passed away on April 22, at the age of 72. His music appealed to a wide variety of listeners, encompassing elements of folk, soul, and rhythm and blues. His career was amazing and wide-reaching, and chances are, with 29 albums to his name, even if you don’t know his name, you’ve heard his work.
Havens began his career in Brooklyn, organizing neighborhood street-corner singing by the age of 16, moving on to gospel, folk, and signing on with Bob Dylan’s manager in the mid-60’s. By 1969, he was the opening act for Woodstock, taking the stage for nearly three hours. He ran out of material and wound up improvising the folk-song inspired “Freedom,” which became one of his most famous hits. In the 70’s, he branched out into acting, both on stage and in films such as Greased Lightning. He made popular television appearances on both Ed Sullivan Show and Johnny Carson. While his albums climbed onto the Billboard charts, Havens began writing and performing highly successful commercials for Amtrack, Maxwell House Coffee, the cotton Industry (“The Fabric of Our Lives”), and others.
Havens was a firm supporter of various ecological and charitable concerns. He founded the Northwind Undersea Institute, an oceanographic children’s museum on City Island in the Bronx, which led to the creation of the Natural Guard, to teach children how they can help the environment. He was a performer at The Benefit Concert for The Longest Walk, an American Indian spiritual walk, the Tibetan Freedom Concert, the fundraising concert for Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday, and many others. He was honored with the Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Award, the American Eagle Award by the National Music Council, and was inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame in 2006. He played the Cannes film festival, and President Clinton’s inauguration.
Havens died suddenly of a heart attack, following several years of kidney issues. His cremated remains are scheduled to be scattered across Yasgur’s farm this summer, where the original Woodstock took place.
You can check out some of the superb Richie Havens legacy at Cheshire Public Library with the following CD’s: