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Friday September 19, 2014
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Richie Havens

 

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would be like saying that "Don't Worry, Be Happy" is Bobby McFerrin's most important song.

Havens opened Woodstock and played for nearly three hours, in part because he had to fill time when other performers were delayed in getting to the site, and partly because the huge audience called him back repeatedly for encores. When he ran out of material, he improvised "Freedom" out of the traditional spiritual, "Motherless Child." (In this respect, there is a resonance with McFerrin, who also improvised "Don't Worry, Be Happy," in his case in the studio, and almost didn't bother to release it.)

Havens seized the opportunity his Woodstock success gave him and followed it with a string of successful recordings and an active international touring schedule, which he maintains to this day. He polished his musical fingerprint: an instantly identifiable voice; an equally inimitable open-tuned, thumb-fretted guitar style; and a gift for sure-handed interpretation. His covers of well-known songs like "Here Comes the Sun," "All Along the Watchtower," "Won't Get Fooled Again," and many others are often as compelling as the originals, if not more so.

He also branched out into acting on stage, TV, and films, and became one of the early leaders in environmental issues when in the 1970s he helped found the North Wind Undersea Institute, a children's museum in his native Bronx, dedicated to educating young people about ecology.

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