Richie Havens, the Non-Stop Folk Legend Behind 'Freedom,' Has Died

Esther Zuckerman

Legendary guitarist and folk singer Richie Havens died at the age of 72, his representative the Roots Agency reported on their website today. Dave Itzkoff of the New York Times reported that the cause of death was a heart attack. 

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Havens toured almost non-stop for 45 years before retiring only recently, according to an announcement on his website that was reiterated in his death notice on the Roots Agency's site: 

From Woodstock to The Isle of Wight to Glastonbury to Fillmore Auditorium to Royal Albert Hall to Carnegie Hall, Richie has played the most legendary music festivals that ever were, and most of the world's greatest concert venues. But even when performing in a Greenwich Village coffeehouse or a small club or regional theater, he's always been eternally grateful that people in any number turned up each time to hear him sing. More than anything, he feels incredibly blessed to have met so many of you along the way.

Havens opened the famous 1969 Woodstock festival almost by accident, as his Bloomberg obituary recounts. With other acts stuck in traffic, Havens was persuaded to go on stage. He improvised "Freedom"—after having run out of songs in the lengthy set, according to Rolling Stone—and the rest was history. 

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In his long career, Havens formed his own record label, recorded jingles, and performed at an inaugural ball for Bill Clinton in 1993.