Folk musician Richie Havens, 72, who opened the historic 1969 Woodstock musical festival and energised the crowd with his version of ‘Motherless Child/Freedom,’ died of a heart attack on Monday, his agency said.
Havens, who emerged from the New York folk scene in the 1960s and went on to sing for the Dalai Lama and President Bill Clinton, died at his home in Jersey City.
Known for his driving acoustic guitar and soulful covers of songs by The Beatles, Bob Dylan and The Who, Havens used his music to champion the causes of personal freedom and brotherhood.
He retired from touring three years ago and released what would be his final album ‘Nobody Left to Crown’ in 2008. Havens’ improvised version of the gospel song “Motherless Child” evolved into “Freedom” at Woodstock and became an anthem of the 1960s hippie generation.
His three-hour performance at Woodstock proved a breakthrough and the inclusion of the song on the “Woodstock” concert movie broadened his audience.
A different version of “Freedom” was included on the soundtrack of Quentin Tarantino’s recent film ‘Django Unchained.’
In the 1970s, Havens branched out into acting appearing in the 1972 version of The Who’s rock opera ‘Tommy’ and taking the lead role in the ‘Othello’ inspired 1974 movie ‘Catch My Soul.’
Havens sang at Clinton’s 1993 inauguration, performed several times for the Dalai Lama, and gave a show-stopping performance of ‘Just Like a Woman’ at the all-star Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Concert in 1992.
Other Havens hits included versions of Beatles classics ‘Here Comes the Sun’ and ‘Strawberry Fields Forever,’ and The Who’s ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again.’