Richie Havens 1941-2013

April 23rd, 2013 | Simcha Weinstein | Comments Off on Richie Havens 1941-2013

Photo by Anthony Correia/ShutterstockSinger/Songwriter and Ecology Activist Richie Havens, who memorably opened the legendary Woodstock music festival in 1969 and years later played at Bill Clinton’s first inauguration (at The Environmental Ball), died Monday at the age of 72.

Havens was not supposed to have been the opening act at Woodstock in 1969, but other performers couldn’t get through the massive crowds in time for their performances. He was sent out on stage around 5 p.m. for what was supposed to be a very short set, but the set kept getting extended – ultimately he played for nearly three hours. Finally, Havens improvised a song called “Freedom,” derived from the old gospel tune “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.” The song seemed to capture the spirit of the festival, and it was featured prominently in the 1970 “Woodstock” movie. “Freedom” ended up being Richie Havens’ most memorable song – his signature work, if you will.

As a songwriter, Havens lyrics addressed crime, racial inequality and his love for the natural world, and over the years his environmental activism became as central to his work as his songwriting. Increasingly, Richie Havens devoted his energies to educating young people about ecological issues. In the mid-1970’s, he co-founded the Northwind Undersea Institute, an oceanographic children’s museum on City Island in the Bronx. That project led to the creation of the Natural Guard, an organization that Havens described as “a way of helping kids learn that they can have a hands-on role in affecting the environment. Children study the land, water, and air in their own communities and see how they can make positive changes from something as simple as planting a garden in an abandoned lot.”

Richie Havens passed away on April 22 – Earth Day. He lived his life as if everyday were a day to celebrate the magnificence of nature. I had the amazing good fortune of seeing Richie Havens live at a small club in Chapel Hill, NC. It was a beautiful show from a beautiful man. I have never seen anyone strum a guitar with such passion, intensity and commitment. He lived his life as he played his guitar. Richie Havens will indeed be missed.

In remembering Richie here is a wonderful live version of him singing “What About Me – the classic song from Quicksilver Messenger Service. The lyrics to this song capture his commitment to the environment and the human condition. Rest in Peace Richie Havens.