Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Woodstock opener Havens dies at 72

Richie Havens has died aged 72 (AP/Jeff Christensen)

Richie Havens, the folk singer and guitarist who was the first performer at the famous Woodstock festival, has died of a heart attack at the age of 72, his family said.

Havens was known for his crafty guitar work and cover songs, including his well-received version of Bob Dylan's Just Like A Woman.

His performance at the three-day 1969 Woodstock festival, where headliners included Jimi Hendrix, was a turning point in his career.

He was the first act on stage, performing for nearly three hours. His performance of Freedom - based on the spiritual Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child - became an anthem.

Havens returned to the site during Woodstock's 40th anniversary in 2009. "Everything in my life, and so many others, is attached to that train," he said in an interview that year.

Havens had been scheduled to go on fifth at Woodstock but was bumped up because of travel delays. Festival producer Michael Lang said in the book The Road To Woodstock that he chose Havens "because of his calm but powerful demeanour".

Havens's website said he had kidney surgery years ago and that he never recovered enough to perform concerts like he used to.

Havens, who was born in Brooklyn, New York City, performed at Bill Clinton's presidential inauguration in 1993.

The singer, who released his debut Mixed Bag in 1967, released more than 25 albums. His last was 2008's Nobody Left To Crown. He also started his own record label Stormy Forest in 2000. "I really sing songs that move me," he said in an interview. "I'm not in showbusiness, I'm in the communications business. That's what it's about for me."

He also became an actor in the 1970s and was in the original stage presentation of The Who's Tommy. He appeared in the 1974 film Catch My Soul and co-starred with Richard Pryor in Greased Lightning in 1977.

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