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Richie Havens appears in an undated publicity photo provided by The Roots Agency. - Provided courtesy of The Roots Agency

Richie Havens dies: Woodstock's opening act was 72

04/22/2013 by Corinne Heller

Richie Havens, the legendary bearded folk singer and rhythm guitarist who served as the opening act of the iconic 1969 Woodstock festival, has died at age 72 on Monday, April 22 after suffering a heart attack.

His death was announced that day by the Roots Agency, which represented the singer for several years, and his family. The singer had four daughters, including one who lives in the Town of Woodstock in New York. Havens lived in New Jersey.

"Beloved folk icon Richie Havens died this morning in his home from a sudden heart attack," his family said in a statement carried by The Poughkeepskie Journal. "While his family greatly appreciates that Richie's many fans are also mourning this loss, they do ask for privacy during this difficult time. A public memorial will be planned for a later date."

Haven was born in Brooklyn, New York, to a Native American father and Caribbean mother. Haven was one of nine children. He sang in a gospel group as a teenager and began his professional music career in the 1960s.

Havens performed the song "Freedom" at the Woodstock Music & Art Fair at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts in Bethel, located southwest of Woodstock, New York. The 3-day music festival promoted messages of peace and love as scores of people in the United States protested the Vietnam War.

Havens was the first to perform and was followed by the likes of Santana, Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, The Who, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Joe Cocker and Jimi Hendrix.

Havens reprised his performance of "Freedom" at a 40th anniversary event in 2009. The song was featured in Quentin Tarantino's 2012 film "Django Unchained."

Like many 1960s artists, Richie Havens often sang about peace. In 1977, Richie Havens recorded the song "Shalom, Salam Alaicum" ("Peace, Peace upon you"), singing in English, Hebrew and Arabic, to commemorate the peace talks between Israel and Egypt, who signed a treaty two years later.

In addition to "Freedom," which he released as a single in 1972, Havens also found success with a cover of the Beatles "Here Comes the Sun." He released more than two dozen albums throughout his career and toured for 45 years. In late 2011, Havens underwent kidney surgery.

Havens was well known for his long beard. In 2006, he told NPR: "I haven't seen my face since I started growing my beard, which was when I was a teenager almost, I never shaved. So I don't really know what I look like. And he had the same thing, he had the same beard, and the same nose, and the same eyebrows, and shape of face, you know."

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