Richard Pierce "Richie" Havens (January 21, 1941 – April 22, 2013) was an American singer-songwriter and guitarist. His music encompassed elements of folk, soul, and rhythm and blues. He is best known for his intense and rhythmic guitar style (often in open tunings), soulful covers of pop and folk songs, and his opening performance at the 1969 Woodstock Festival.
Born in Brooklyn, Havens was the eldest of nine children. He was of American Indian (Blackfoot) descent on his father's side, and of the British West Indies on his mother's.His grandfather was Blackfoot of the Montana/South Dakota area. Havens' grandfather and great-uncle joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, got off in New York City and ended up on the Shinnecock Reservation in Long Island. There he got married then moved to Brooklyn.
As a youth in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Havens began organizing his neighborhood friends into street corner doo-wop groups and was performing with the McCrea Gospel Singers at age 16.
At age 20, Havens left Brooklyn, seeking artistic stimulation in Greenwich Village. "I saw the Village as a place to escape to, in order to express yourself," he recalled. "I had first gone there during the Beatnik days of the 1950s to perform poetry, then I drew portraits for two years and stayed up all night listening to folk music in the clubs. It took a while before I thought of picking up a guitar."
Havens' solo performances quickly spread beyond the Village folk circles. After cutting two records for Douglas Records, he signed on with Bob Dylan's manager, Albert Grossman, and landed a record deal with the Verve Folkways(later Verve Forecast) label. Verve released Mixed Bag in late 1966, which featured tracks such as "Handsome Johnny" (co-written by Havens and future Oscar-winning actor Louis Gossett Jr.), "Follow", and a cover of Bob Dylan's "Just Like a Woman".
By 1969, Havens had released five more albums. Something Else Again (1968) became his first album to hit the Billboard charts and also pulled Mixed Bag back onto the charts. Two of those albums were unauthorized "exploitation albums" released by Douglas Records (or Douglas International): Electric Havens (released June 1, 1968) and Richie Havens Record (1969).
n 2000, Havens teamed with the electronic music duo Groove Armada for the retro 1970s-style song, "Hands of Time".The song was featured on the soundtrack of the film Collateral; the same song was also used in the films Domino, A Lot Like Love, and Tell No One. Havens was also featured on "Little By Little" and "Healing" on the band's third album, Goodbye Country.
In 2000, he published They Can't Hide Us Anymore, an autobiography co-written with Steve Davidowitz. Havens maintained his status as a folk icon and continued to tour. In 2002, he released Wishing Well, followed by the 2004 album Grace of the Sun.
Havens playing in Piermont, New York, January 4, 2009
In 2003, the National Music Council awarded Havens the American Eagle Award for his place as part of America's musical heritage and for providing "a rare and inspiring voice of eloquence, integrity and social responsibility."
On October 15, 2006, Havens was inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame.
In 2007, Havens appeared as "Old Man Arvin" in the Todd Haynes film I'm Not There. In a classic front-porch jam scene, he is shown singing the Bob Dylan song "Tombstone Blues" with Marcus Carl Franklin and Tyrone Benskin. Havens' version of the song also appears on the I'm Not There soundtrack.
In February 2008, Havens performed at The Jazz Café in London, England. The performance and the man was described by Cliff Smith, reporting for Music-News as "Mesmerising, poetic, profound, funny...".
Havens was invited to perform at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival opening ceremony. He played "Freedom" at the request of the jury president, Sean Penn. He also performed at the London, Ontario, Blues Festival in July 2008.
In March 2008, Havens released a new studio album entitled, Nobody Left To Crown.The first single release was the country-tinged "The Key".
Havens appeared in the acclaimed 2009 film Soundtrack for a Revolution, which provided a general history of the modern civil rights movement, and had modern artists performing many of the era's musical classics. In the film, Havens performed a haunting rendition of Will the Circle Be Unbroken?.
On May 3, 2009, Havens performed at the fundraising concert in honor of Pete Seeger's 90th birthday. In June 2009, he performed at the fifth annual Mountain Jam Festival. The event, hosted by Allman Brothers Band and Gov't Mule guitarist Warren Haynes, was held at the Hunter Mountain Ski Resort in Hunter, New York. As is the tradition, the festival took place on the weekend following Memorial Day. On June 20, 2009, Havens performed at the Clearwater Festival. On July 4, 2009, he performed at the Woodstock Tribute festival in Ramsey, New Jersey. On August 8, 2010, he performed at Musikfest 2010 at Foy Hall at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
n 2010, Havens had kidney surgery but did not recover fully enough to perform as he had before. On March 20, 2012, he announced on his Facebook page that he would stop touring after 45 years due to health concerns.
On April 22, 2013, Havens died of a heart attack at home in Jersey City, New Jersey at the age of 72.The BBC referred to him as a "Woodstock icon," while Stephen Stills of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young said Havens "could never be replicated." The Daily Telegraph stated Havens "made an indelible mark on contemporary music," while Douglas Martin of The New York Times reported that Havens had "riveted Woodstock."
Pursuant to Havens's request, his ashes were scattered from a plane over the site of the Woodstock festival, in a ceremony held on August 18, 2013, the 44th anniversary of the last day of the festival.
Havens was survived by three children, five grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
Photo and information credit: wikipedia.org