It’s a brilliant pub-quiz trivia question – who was the first onstage act at Woodstock? Answer, Richie Havens. Richie is remembered for his amazing rendition of Freedom, a song not released as a single until 1972.
richie havens fax
- Richard “Richie” Havens was an American singer-songwriter and guitarist known for his intense and rhythmic guitar style (often in open tunings) – but also for being the opening act at the 1969 Woodstock Festival.
- Richie was scheduled to perform for 40 minutes, but when a traffic jam delayed the other performers, he was asked to keep playing. Three hours later, Richie had run out of songs, so he started to make one up to the melody of “Motherless Child,” a spiritual he’d sung as a kid. He just kept singing “Freedom,” and it became one of the pivotal moments of the festival.
- Born in Brooklyn, Richie was of Native American (Blackfoot) descent on his father’s side, and of the British West Indies on his mother’s.
- As a teen, he organised local friends into doo-wop groups and performed on street corners. By the age of 20, he’d left to become a folk performer in Greenwich Village where he performed alongside the likes of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez.
- Performing at Woodstock was the turning point of Richie’s career. He became a star, known more for the passion of his live performances than for his recorded albums.
- He recorded 12 albums between 1966 and 1977, and 21 throughout his career – the last in 2008.
- In later years, Richie was dogged by ill-health. In 2010, he had kidney surgery from which he never fully recovered. In 2012, he announced that, after 45 years, he would stop touring.
- Just over a year later, on April 22, 2013, Richie died of a heart attack at home in Jersey City, New Jersey.
- At the time of his death, the BBC referred to him as a “Woodstock icon,” while Stephen Stills of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young said Richie “could never be replicated.” The Daily Telegraph wrote that Richie “made an indelible mark on contemporary music.
- In accordance with Richie’s wishes, his remains were cremated and his ashes scattered from the air over the original site of the Woodstock Festival, in a ceremony held on August 18, 2013, the 44th anniversary of the last day of the festival.
- Freedom was composed by Richie Havens on stage on the opening day of Woodstock 1969. Having been asked to keep playing long past his scheduled 40 minutes, Richie ran out of songs. He began to make a song up based on the Afro-American spiritual, Motherless Child.
- Richie once told Rolling Stone magazine,
I think the word ‘freedom’ came out of my mouth because I saw it in front of me. I saw the freedom that we were looking for. And every person was sharing it, and so that word came out.
- When the cut of the song was put on the film Woodstock, it became an international hit instantly.
- The song was released as a single in 1972. Despite its popularity, it charted on neither the US nor the UK charts.
- Freedom appears in the movie Django Unchained.
- Freedom lyrics.
freedom – richie havens – 1972 -video
freedom – richie havens – 1969 Woodstock – video
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