Havens, born in 1941, started out singing doo-wop and gospel songs with neighborhood groups in Brooklyn. Inspired by the folk music he heard visiting the clubs in Greenwich Village, Havens eventually picked up a guitar and made a name for himself in the burgeoning scene. And in 1969, Havens impassioned a generation. His reputation as a live performer earned him a spot at Woodstock, a defining moment in his career. According his website, “As the festival’s first performer, he held the crowed spellbound for nearly three hours, called back for encore after encore. Having run out of tunes, he improvised a song based on the old spiritual ‘Motherless Child’ that because ‘Freedom,’ a song now considered to be the anthem of a generation.”
However, the legendary performer confirmed that he can no longer tour nonstop. The announcement issued states:
As many of you already know, Richie had kidney surgery a year and a half ago. Though he did return to the stage after that for numerous concerts, he truly never regained the physical strength required to put on the kind of shows for which he’s always been known, and coupled with ongoing health concerns, the traveling and performing have simply become too hard on him for him to be able to continue. After 45 years of non-stop touring, this is a sad and unexpected reality.
Since his epic Woodstock concert, Havens has continued to record and perform. He started a record label, collaborated with several artists, acted in plays and movies and spent time educating children on ecological issues. While he is no longer able to tour, he most likely won’t stop contributing and hopefully could do one-off appearances or select dates.
I’ve been a fan of Richie Havens for a long time, and am sad I never had the opportunity to see him perform. One of my favorite songs of his is “Hands of Time.” In 2000, electronic duo Groove Armada asked havens to join them on the track, which was featured in the film Collateral.