Richie Havens: 6 Essential Performances

The late singer-guitarist had a rare gift for interpretation and improvisation

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Over a remarkable career that lasted nearly five decades — and only ended with a March 2012 Facebook announcement that he was retiring due to persistent health issues — Richie Havens developed a global reputation as a consummate interpreter of pop and folk hits, an innovative guitarist, and an artist dedicated to myriad social causes. Below, are six examples of his extraordinary gifts.

“Handsome Johnny,” Woodstock, 1969

Havens was the festival’s opening performer — this track was the first song played at Woodstock.


“Freedom,” Woodstock, 1969

Havens played for nearly three hours (partly because several scheduled acts had difficulty reaching the location due to traffic jams caused by the unexpectedly huge crowds).  One of his final songs was this, an improvisation of an old spiritual called “Motherless Child.” His performance, captured in the seminal music documentary Woodstock, catapulted the singer to worldwide fame.


“Here Comes the Sun,” 1971

From Havens’ album Alarm Clock, a wonderful mid-tempo interpretation of George Harrison’s hit.


“I’m Not in Love,” 1976

A year after the art-rock duo 10cc scored a No. 1 hit with this lush weeper, Havens offered his soulful version of the song — which became a minor hit for the singer.


“Hands of Time,” 2002

Havens teamed up with the electronic duo Groove Armada for this retro-styled hit —  in this clip, they perform the song on the @Jools Holland Later Show.


“Tombstone Blues,” I’m Not There, 2007

Playing a character named Old Man Arvin in Todd Haynes’ quirky Bob Dylan biopic, Havens — along with Tyrone Benskin and Marcus Carl Franklin — cooks up a sizzling jam of Dylan’s blues classic.