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Remembering Richie Havens

Remembering Ritchie Havens

Richie Havens at the 2007 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival
Richie Havens at the 2007 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival©Mary F. Andrews
Richie Havens' performance at 2007 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
Richie Havens' performance at 2007 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival© M F Andrews

Folk music icon Richie Havens died in April of 2013. Mr. Havens had a 45-year career that catapulted him to fame after his appearance at Woodstock in 1969. As the festival's first performer, he held the crowd for nearly three hours. In part, Havens was told to continue playing, because many artists scheduled to perform after him were delayed in reaching the festival location with highways at a virtual standstill. Having run out of tunes, he improvised a song based on the old spiritual “Motherless Child” that became “Freedom.” “Freedom” remained his signature song throughout his remaining years. Thanks to the movie, “Woodstock,” Richie Havens will be remembered for many years to come.

Havens was born in Brooklyn to a large family. His roots emanated from the Native American Blackfoot tribe on his father’s side and British West Indies on his mother’s side of the family. He started singing in Greenwich Village in the 1950s. His most formidable performances were cover songs from Bob Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman to the Beatles’ “Here Comes The Sun.” His live performance always had a high-energy approach to singing and playing guitar.

A friend of mine once said, “Richie Havens changed my life.” It was an odd, blatant statement to hear. Upon inquiring how he changed her life. She told a story about meeting him at a festival in San Francisco many years ago. He was very inviting and radiated peaceful spirituality and he spent 30 minutes or more ”giving us a new confidence that was not present previously.” My friend continued saying, “It was a joyous meeting and one I will remember forever.”

It was hard to really get what my friend meant about “a life changing experience” even after trying to prod more information from her. The chance came to meet Mr. Havens when he appeared at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 2007. After an hour long set where he played a vigorous show in the Blues tent before thousands of fans, he sat at the autograph tent and greeted a long line of fans until the last one was gone. I bought a cd for my friend and stood in line to meet him. Each person was treated as though they were long lost friends. When it was my turn, I told him what my friend had said about him. He was very gracious, warm, and accepting of me. On the cd, he signed, “best friends forever.”