Richie Havens, Famed Folk Singer, Dies At 72
Richie Havens' music was inspired by Fred Neil and Tom Paxton
Richie Havens, the legendary folk singer that opened the infamous 1969 Woodstock festival, died of a sudden heart attack on Monday, his publicist told CNN. He was 72.
Up until three years ago, Havens was still touring and recording after 30 years on the road and thirty albums. His career took off after the 1969 Woodstock festival when the virtually unknown folk artist found himself as the opening act – jumping up from the fifth spot when the scheduled opener got stuck in traffic.
"It was 5 o'clock and nothing was happening yet," Havens told Billboard. "I had the least instruments (to set up) and the least people (in his band)." Havens then proceeded to run through his 40 minute set. When it was over, the organizers asked for four more songs. "I went back and did that, then it was, 'Four more songs…' and that kept happening 'til two hours and 45 minutes later, I had sung every song I know," he said.
Havens, who'd grown up in Brooklyn, had listened and sung along to doo-wop as a child. But when he heard the heavy social context in songs from artists like Fred Neil and Tom Paxton, he knew that was the kind of music that he wanted to make. "It was the songs that actually changed my life," he told CNN in 2009. "The songs that I heard were so much different than the doo-wop kind of thing. They were just so powerful. Finally I decided, 'I've got to do this.'"
After making the rounds at coffeehouses in New York's West Village for more than seven years, Havens was officially discovered at Woodstock. Not one to forget the impact that his set on that stage ultimately had on his career, Havens returned in 2009 for the festival's 40th anniversary.
Havens is survived by his four daughters and five grandchildren.