The world lost a great performer with the death of Richie Havens, from a sudden heart attack, at the age of 72.
He opened the 1969 Woodstock Festival by improvising the song “Freedom” in front of that huge crowd. From the CNN obituary:
Havens told Billboard that his breakthrough at Woodstock came after another artist’s equipment got stuck in traffic. He was supposed to be the fifth act.
“It was 5 o’clock and nothing was happening yet,” Havens told Billboard. “I had the least instruments (to set up on stage) and the least people (in his band).”
So Havens went on and performed for 40 minutes, as planned. Organizers asked him to do four more songs, he told Billboard.
“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.
After Havens gained attention at Woodstock, he recorded a soulful-voiced cover of the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun,” which rose on the pop charts in 1970.
Stephen Stills of Crosby, Stills and Nash said Havens was an inspiration for the natural gravel in his singing voice. He called Havens a passionate performer.
“He lit fire when he started playing within the first song and burned exactly the same way throughout his set. And it never stopped, it never changed,” Stills said.