More than a song: Richie Havens put his music into action

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Richie Havens, whose impassioned performance at Woodstock in 1969 put him on the counterculture map, died from a heart attack Monday at 72.

The Woodstock stage featured two signature events: guitarist Jimi Hendrix's scorching rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" on the festival's final morning and the far quieter, but no less passionate, improvisation of the song "Freedom" by folk singer Richie Havens. The craggy-voiced, Brooklyn-born vocalist had been scheduled to be the fifth performer at the festival, but he stepped in as the opener when another act fell through.

Although he never became a household name like his friend Bob Dylan, Mr. Havens released 25 albums, a testament to his enduring appeal, especially to the baby boomers who cheered his performances from Greenwich Village coffeehouses to world tours.

Audiences appreciated Mr. Havens' original compositions, but he was a revered interpreter of other people's songs, especially Mr. Dylan and the Beatles. His only Top 10 hit was a cover of the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun," written by George Harrison. He also gave a fresh coat of paint to spirituals, folk songs and blues standards. He turned his attention to commercial jingles in the 1980s, as those who hummed along to Maxwell House Coffee ads during that period can attest. A new generation of fans discovered him when he performed at the 1993 inauguration of Bill Clinton.

Mr. Havens took just as much pride in his work as an activist on ecological issues. He created the Northwind Undersea Institute, an oceanographic children's museum in the Bronx. He also founded the Natural Guard, an environmental organization for children. Whether standing on stage singing "Just Like a Woman" or marching on behalf of cleaning the environment, Richie Havens was always a class act.



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