Singer Richie Havens dies at 72

Famed folk singer Richie Havens – the opening act at the 1969 Woodstock music festival – died Monday of a sudden heart attack, his publicist said. He was 72.
Havens, who retired three years ago, toured for more than 30 years and recorded 30 albums.
Havens told Billboard that his breakthrough at Woodstock came after another artist’s equipment got stuck in traffic. He was supposed to be the fifth act.
“It was 5 o’clock and nothing was happening yet” – Havens told Billboard. “I had the least instruments (to set up on stage) and the least people (in his band).”
So Havens went on and performed for 40 minutes, as planned. Organizers asked him to do four more songs, he told Billboard.

Singer Richie Havens dies at 72
Richie Havens.

Richie Havens, who marshaled a craggy voice, a percussive guitar and a soulful sensibility to play his way into musical immortality at Woodstock in 1969, improvising the song “Freedom” on the fly, died on Monday at his home in Jersey City. He was 72.
The cause was a heart attack, his agent, Tim Drake, said.
Mr. Havens embodied the spirit of the ’60s — espousing peace and love, hanging out in Greenwich Village and playing gigs from the Isle of Wight to the Fillmore (both East and West) to Carnegie Hall. He surfaced only in the mid-1960′s, but before the end of the decade many rock musicians were citing him as an influence. His rendition of “Handsome Johnny” became an anti-Vietnam War anthem.
He moved beyond his 60′s triumphs to record more than two dozen albums, act in movies, champion environmental education and perform in 1993 at the first inauguration of President Bill Clinton. In 2003, the National Music Council gave him its American Eagle Award for his place in the nation’s musical heritage. Kidney surgery forced him to stop touring last year.

“It had to be Richie – I knew he could handle it, and his powerful but calm demeanor was just what we needed to set the tone for liftoff” – Michael Lang, a co-creator of the Woodstock festival, recalled in “The Road to Woodstock,” his 2009 book. “Regardless of what he said, he was ready and needed the least preparation and gear. When he saw me coming, Richie looked scared, and tried to walk away.”
Havens and his band mates opened Woodstock shortly after 5 p.m. with “Minstrel From Gault.” After their regular set, they did multiple encores to buy time for fellow performers still struggling to reach the site.
“Like the trouper he was, he just kept going and going,” Lang wrote. “He’d get up to leave the stage and we’d send him back. He didn’t have a set list to draw from – but returned with song after song, and his band followed along. Finally, drenched with sweat, he gave us the look that this – his sixth or seventh encore – was it.”

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