Richie Havens was born in Brooklyn and became a resident of Greenwich Village during the 1960s. He wrote and performed protest songs. He was booked for a festival in Bethel, New Yor,k that was projected to sell around seventy thousand tickets at best. The venue was called Woodstock. When the roads became impassable because of half a million people parked and camped out on their vehicles, he and his band was helicoptered over. They were sent first because they were the smallest ensemble: three guys with two congas and two guitars. Richie held the crowd enraptured for three hours at the opening. In a long russet dashiki, white pants and black sandals, he strode across a stage that was still partially under construction and started his set with "Handsome Johnny," the song that he wrote with Lou Gossett Jr., which traces war from Concord to Vietnam with a mention of the Civil Rights War that was going on in Birmingham, Alabama. Being asked to do set after set, he performed until the logistics of getting the other performers into the venue were hashed out. He ran out of material, so his last song was an improvised number that blended parts of "Motherless Child" and a spiritual called "Phone In My Pocket to Call Jesus’ to make the song ‘Freedom."
Best known for his cover of the Beatles "Here Comes the Sun," Havens released twenty one albums in his career, many of them under his own label, Stormy Forest. In the middle of his career, Havens did commercial work for Maxwell House Coffee as well as singing "The Fabric of Our Lives," the theme for the cotton industry, and performed at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton in 1993. Havens play for charity, civil rights and the environment all his performing life.
He started the North Wind Undersea Institute, an oceanographic children's museum on City Island in the Bronx, and helped in the creation of The Natural Guard, an organization that educates children about the environment.
Richie died of a heart attack in 2013 at age 72, and he had his ashes scattered over the alfalfa field that was Woodstock.
~Lydia Barnes (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Our Smooth Video of the Day: Richie Havens at the original Woodstock, 1969