Iconic sixties folk troubadour Richie Havens has died from a sudden heart attack. He was 72.
According to his longtime management team at the Roots Agency, Havens died at his home in Los Angeles this morning.
Havens was best known for his performance at the Woodstock Festival in 1969. As the event’s opening act, he was instructed to stretch his set, partly because other performers were having difficulty reaching the congested festival location in upstate New York. When Havens ran out of songs, he improvised a version of the spiritual Motherless Child, which would eventually become his signature song, Freedom. All told, his set ran nearly three hours.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., Havens was best known for his intensely rhythmic guitar style and his unique cover versions of other artist’s songs, including Bob Dylan’s Just Like a Woman and George Harrison’s Here Comes the Sun.
In the seventies, Haven acted sporadically and was a featured performer in the original 1972 stage presentation of the Who’s rock opera Tommy. He also played Othello in the 1974 low-budget film Catch My Soul and appeared in the 1977 movie Greased Lightning opposite Richard Pryor.
Havens recorded more than two-dozen albums and toured for more than four decades before retiring from the road three years ago. In 1993, he performed at the inauguration of U.S. president Bill Clinton. Most recently, his song Freedom was featured prominently in the Quentin Tarantino-directed film Django Unchained.
According to his agency, Havens’s family is asking for privacy while they mourn his loss. A public memorial is being planned for a later date.
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