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Passings: Richie Havens (1941 - 2013)

Richie Havens, folk singer and one of the artists to gain fame through the Woodstock Festival, died this morning after suffering a major heart attack at the age of 72.

A statement sent out from his management said:
Richie Havens was gifted with one of the most recognizable voices in popular music. His fiery, poignant, soulful singing style has remained unique and ageless since his historic appearance at Woodstock in 1969. For four decades, Havens used his music to convey passionate messages of brotherhood and personal freedom. Billboard Magazine writes, “This acoustic soul giant truly seems to be getting more inspiring and graceful with age.” From Woodstock to The Isle of Wight to Glastonbury to the Fillmore Auditorium to Royal Albert Hall to Carnegie Hall, Richie played the most legendary music festivals that ever were, and most of the world’s greatest concert venues. But even when performing in a Greenwich Village coffeehouse or a small club or regional theater, he was eternally grateful that people in any number turned up each time to hear him sing. More than anything, he feels incredibly blessed to have met so many of you along the way.

While his family greatly appreciates that Richie’s many fans are also mourning this loss, they do ask for privacy during this difficult time.
Havens was born in New York and got his musical start organizing neighborhood kids in Doo-Wop groups along with performing with the McCrae Gospel Singers. In 1961, he moved from Brooklyn to Greenwich Village where he first worked as an artist but eventually grew fascinated with the music scene.

Richie quickly learned to play guitar and started playing in the Village folk clubs. He cut two tracks for Douglas Records before being picked up by Bob Dylan's manager Albert Grossman who got him a deal on Verve Forecast.

Between 1967 and 1969, Havens released five albums that would become the core of his repertoire with such songs as Handsome Johnny and Just Like a Woman, but it was an impromptu performance at the Woodstock Festival that gave him his most enduring song.

In reality, Freedom wasn't even a song when he first performed it at the festival. He opened the festival and ended up playing a three hours set when the rest of the day's performers were delayed by the infamous traffic jams getting to the site. After running out of all the songs that he knew, he began an improv on the traditional folk song Motherless Child which transformed into what is now known as Freedom. His appearance in the documentary of the festival playing the song propelled his career to a new level.

After Woodstock, Havens started his own label, Stormy Forest. The second album released on the label, Alarm Clock, gave Havens the highest charting single of his career, a cover of the Beatles' Here Comes the Sun (1971 / #16). The album was also his biggest, reaching number 29.

Havens was also an activist for environmental issues, co-founding the Northwood Undersea Institute in the Bronx which educated children on ecology. He also founded The Natural Guard, a group to teach children that they can actually do things to help the environment.

Later in his career, Havens collaborated with such artists as Groove Armada, Steve Hackett and Peter Gabriel. His final album was 2008's Nobody Left to Crown and, in 2012, he announced his retirement from touring.