Friday, April 26, 2013

Richie Havens--Freedom (1969)/Here Comes The Sun (1971)

     Richie Havens died this past Monday (4/22) at the age of 71 of a heart attack at his home in Jersey City, New Jersey. The last couple of years he had been dealing with poor health after a kidney transplant in 2010, although just retiring from performing last year. He had spent many years as an activist and educator on the subject of the environment, especially to children, but his fame was sealed due to his performance at Woodstock in 1969.
     Havens was born in Brooklyn in 1941, the oldest of nine children. Even at an early age he had an interest in the arts, having sung on many a street corner with his schoolmates hoping to be heard. In 1961, he moved to Greenwich Village to attempt to link up with others of like mind artistically. At first he wasn't inclined to perform, settling to write poetry and painting. Once he did pick up a guitar and start singing, it didn't talk long for him to be the talk of the village, which prompted Albert Grossman, who at the time was managing Bob Dylan to approach Richie about signing with him. He did, and soon had a contract with the Verve Forecast label.
     His first album, "Mixed Bag" was released in 1967 which was the first of six (!!) albums released between then and 1969. What he was becoming known for however was his spellbinding live performances. This landed him as the opening act at Woodstock in 1969.
     He certainly had enough material to perform, what was not planned however was the crowds. No one had predicted, much less planned for the tens of thousands who started showing up. This caused a massive bottleneck which caused not only delays for the concert goers, but for the performers as well who were having to be brought in by helicopter to fulfill their obligations to perform. With no other choice, Havens kept the crowds enthralled for three hours with several encores. Finally however, he was out of songs, this led him to improvise a song based on the old spiritual, "Motherless Child", what happened next was nothing short of musical magic.

      The live performance and subsequent movie catapulted his fame not only here in the US but also around the world. He actually only had one hit on the charts, and that was a cover of the George Harrison penned, "Here Comes The Sun" which reached the top 20 in 1971. Although he never stopped singing or releasing albums, Richie instead used his newly found fame to educate others about ecological issues. In the mid-70's he co-founded the Northwind Undersea Institute, an oceanographic museum for children in the Bronx. Throughout the rest of his life, he continued touring and investing his time and energy on a series of environmental pursuits.


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