For better or worse, some musical careers are defined by a single searing moment in time and for Richie Havens, who died on April 22; his career will forever be linked to his appearance as the opener for the Woodstock Festival in 1969. Because the band Sweetwater, who were supposed to open, was caught in traffic, it was Havens, percussionist Daniel Ben Zebulon and guitarist Paul "Deano" Williams who went on at Max Yasgur’s farm near Bethel, New York, at 5 pm on Friday, August 15th 1969. It was Haven’s improvised number, “Freedom,” which he interspersed with bits from the tune “Motherless Child,” with sweat staining his tunic and his feet keeping rhythm, all of it captured on the film of the festival, which will forever be his shining moment in music history. Born in Brooklyn, Haven’s first album, Mixed Bag (Polydor/Verve, 1968), was perhaps his best recording though later efforts like Sings Beatles and Dylan (Rykodisc, 1987) and Nobody Left To Crown (Verve Forecast, 2008) were surprisingly good. Equally powerful both strumming the guitar and singing, Havens who lived in Woodstock, NY, was active in both children’s and environmental causes later in life.
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