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Published: 2013/04/22

Richie Havens: 1941-2013

Folk legend Richie Havens passed away today from a sudden heart attack. He was 72.

Havens is often praised for his lyrical messages of peace and freedom as well as his fiery vocals and guitar playing. His early exposure to music was singing in doo-wop groups on the streets of Brooklyn at age 16.

The Brookyln-bred Havens moved to the Greenwich Village at the age of 20 to be a part of the thriving artistic scene in the ’60s. He was first recognized at clubs such as Cafe Wha? for his percussive guitar playing and unique voice. Havens toured for 45 years before kidney complications forced him to stop in 2012. In addition to many world tours, Havens has also released 21 studio albums. He is often cited as iconic for his festival-opening performance at Woodstock Festival in 1969.

Though initially more interested in visual art and spoken word, musical influences including Nina Simone, Fred Neil and Dino Valenti eventually inspired Havens to pick up a guitar. Word of Richie’s talent eventually spread beyond the Greenwich Village, catching the interest of manager Albert Grossman who helped him land a record deal with the Verve label. Havens released his first album, Mixed Bag, in 1967. His second studio release, Something Else Again came out just a year later and hit the Billboard chart.

Havens soon became a popular live act, playing festivals such as the Newport Folk Festival, Monterey Jazz Festival, Miami Pop Festival and others. His performance at the 1969 Woodstock Festival lasted over three hours and proved to be a big turning point for his career. After Woodstock, Havens started his own record label Stormy Forest, delivering six of his own albums on the label between 1970-1974. He was recognized for his original songs as well as popular covers of The Beatles and Bob Dylan. Havens started reaching more mainstream popularity, appearing on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show for back-to-back nights in front of eager audiences. He also dabbled in acting, appearing in the original stage production of The Who’s rock opera Tommy in 1972 as well as the 1974 feature film Catch My Soul amongst other roles.

In keeping with his peaceful message, Havens was very active with charity work. In the mid-1970’s, he co-founded an oceanographic children’s museum called the Northwind Undersea Institute. This eventually led to the start of The National Guard, an organization that Richie helped start. The National Guard carried out a mission to help children learn about their effects on the environment. His charity work eventually won him the Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Award in 1991. In 2003, he was given the American Eagle Award by the National Music Council for his role in America’s music heritage.

Havens continued to tour and release albums through the decades. Special appearances include a Madison Square Garden appearance in 1992 for the Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary concert and a slot at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton in 1993. In the jamband world, Havens appeared at festivals such as Mountain Jam and played The Sixth Annual Jammy Awards in 2006. He has also performed with the likes of Assembly of Dust, Groove Armada and The Preservation Jazz Hall Band.

Earlier today, a representative gave the following statement: “While his family greatly appreciates that Richie’s many fans are also mourning this loss, they do ask for privacy during this difficult time.” A public memorial is in the works for a later date.

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