By Coby Eiss
Today, April 22nd, 2013, legendary folk-rock guitarist Richie Havens has passed away at the age of 72. Havens’ health has been steadily declining since complications resulted from a kidney surgery in 2012. A sudden heart attack was disclosed as the cause of his death. The news of his passing was released by his longtime representative, The Roots Agency.
“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.”
Havens will certainly be remembered for his intense rhythmic strumming style, which he tastefully incorporated into not only his live performances, but his studio works as well. His most well-known performance is by far his opening act at the iconic Woodstock Festival in 1969. Since many of the artists at that festival were running behind in reaching the site, Havens was told to play a long opening set in order to kill time. He ended up performing a three hour-set, ending with a final improvisational jam that segued into “Freedom”. The set-closer can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fA51wyl-9IE
Havens released twenty-one studio albums, including Alarm Clock which rose to Billboard’s Top 30 albums in 1971 and carried his revered cover of George Harrison’s Here Comes The Sun. However, Havens has probably left more of an imprint on folk-rock history through his soulfully spirited performances of which many were simply composed of him and his guitar. In 1993, Havens performed at the first inauguration of President Bill Clinton, symbolizing the magnitude of his fame and reverence. Eight years later, he was chosen to perform at the Tibetan Freedom Concert for a crowd of over 100,000.
Havens is the recipient of multiple lifetime achievement awards, including the Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Award and the American Eagle Award. He was also heavily involved in charitable works; he founded the Northwind Undersea Institute which is an oceanography museum for children in City Island. He was also responsible for the creation of the Natural Guard, an organization that educates kids about the environment.
The iconic musician’s death comes three days after the one year anniversary of Levon Helm’s death, a rock and roll hall-of-fame drummer whom Havens considered a good friend and shared the stage with many times. While nothing has been planned yet due to the recent nature of his death, one can expect numerous grand tributes to be offered by rock and folk musicians alike in the upcoming year in honor of the now deceased Havens.