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Richie Havens (January 21, 1941 – April 22, 2013)

May 15, 2013

It seems like the world has been extra busy of late, but please let’s pause a moment for the loss of Richie Havens last month.  Havens rose from organizing street-corner doo wop groups in Brooklyn to international fame after he electrified the crowd with an acoustic set at Woodstock.  He toured from then until last year, when health problems forced him to pack it in.  He died at home from a heart attack.

He was the opening act at the storied music festival, setting the tone that helped 400,000 or so folks endure rain, food shortages and severe sanitation problems.  Stomping out the beat in scuffed leather sandals, Havens did a nine-song set that ran longer than planned because some of the other acts were stuck in traffic.  And he was called back for encores.

Here is “Handsome Johnny” — a stirring look at human violence — from the film Woodstock, prefaced with a warning from Chip Monck about the brown acid.

As his popularity burgeoned, Havens started a record company and promptly rewarded us with an exuberant cover of the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun“.  He co-founded the Northwind Undersea Institute, an oceanographic museum for children.  It spawned the Natural Guard, a group to educate and activate kids about the environment.  He performed at numerous benefit concerts.

He made commercials and promos for TV, and acted in films and on stage, once playing Othello.  Last year’s blockbuster Django Unchained featured his famous “Freedom“, a song he improvised at Woodstock when he was stretching his set.

Thank you, Richie, for reminding us of the circularity of life.

  1. Gordon permalink
    May 17, 2013 1:41 pm

    And thank you Allen for reminding us of Richie. Somehow ’68 doesn’t seem that long ago.

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