U.S. folk musician Richie Havens, who opened the historic 1969 Woodstock musical festival and energized the crowd with his version of Motherless Child/Freedom, died of a heart attack on Monday at the age of 72, his talent agency said.
Havens, who emerged from the New York folk scene in the 1960s and went on to sing for the Dalai Lama and President Bill Clinton, died at his home in Jersey City, New Jersey, Roots Agency President Tim Drake told Reuters.
His family said a public memorial would be announced later and asked for privacy in the meantime.
“Beyond his music, those who have met Havens will remember his gentle and compassionate nature, his light humor and his powerful presence,” his family said in a statement.
Havens was born in Brooklyn on Jan. 21, 1941, the eldest of nine children, and began singing in neighborhood doo-wop groups.
In the late 1950s, he went to Greenwich Village where he performed poetry, drew, and immersed himself in the folk music scene.
In 1967, Havens released Mixed Bag, the first of some 25 albums. He retired from touring three years ago and released what would be his final album Nobody Left to Crown in 2008.
Known for his driving acoustic guitar and soulful covers of songs by The Beatles, Bob Dylan and The Who, Havens used his music to champion the causes of personal freedom and brotherhood.
Havens’ improvised version of the gospel song Motherless Child evolved into Freedom at Woodstock and became an anthem of the 1960s hippie generation.
His performance at Woodstock, where he opened the festival and played for three hours, proved a breakthrough and the inclusion of the song on the Woodstock concert movie broadened his audience.
A different version of Freedom was included on the soundtrack of Quentin Tarantino’s award-winning 2012 slavery era movie Django Unchained.
In the 1970s, Havens branched out into acting appearing in the 1972 version of The Who’s rock opera Tommy and taking the lead role in the Othello inspired 1974 movie Catch My Soul.
Havens sang at Clinton’s 1993 inauguration, performed several times for the Dalai Lama, and gave a show-stopping performance of Just Like a Woman at the all-star Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Concert in 1992.
Other Havens hits included versions of Beatles classics Here Comes the Sun and Strawberry Fields Forever, and The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again.