Folk singer Richie Havens, who was perhaps best known for opening the Woodstock festival in 1969, has died aged 72.
His agent confirmed that Havens died of a heart attack at his home in Jersey City, New Jersey.
“Beyond his music, those who have met Havens will remember his gentle and compassionate nature, his light humour and his powerful presence,” his family said in a statement.
Born in Brooklyn in 1941 and bitten by the musical bug at a young age, Havens immersed himself in the Greenwich Village beatnik scene of the 1950s before releasing his first album in 1965.
Havens’ reputation as a live performer earned him the opening slot at Woodstock in 1969, where he entertained the crowd with a three-hour set, which included a performance of the hippie anthem Freedom.
Following his appearance at Woodstock, and the worldwide publicising of his performance in Michael Wadleigh’s big-screen documentary about the festival, Havens spent the 1970s releasing records, making TV appearances and even branching out into acting with roles in films like Greased Lightning and Hearts of Fire.
Possibly his most high-profile media appearance saw Havens perform at the inauguration of former US president Bill Clinton in 1993.
Havens underwent kidney surgery in 2010 and announced his retirement from live performance in March 2012, but a new version of Freedom was featured later that year on the soundtrack to Quentin Tarantino’s film Django Unchained.
“Richie Havens was one of the nicest, most generous and pure individuals I have ever met,” said one of his Woodstock contemporaries Stephen Stills. “He was very wise in the ways of our calling. He always caught fire every time he played.”
Watch Havens performing Freedom at Woodstock below:
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