Yesterday, the music and social justice community on Earth lost a peace troubador and the one in Heaven welcomed him with open arms and I imagine greeted him and blessed him for a job well done. Richie Havens, whose great big heart gave out yesterday at the age of 72, may be best known for his role as the iconic opening act at Woodstock. He was asked to perform a handful of songs but ended up playing for hours since the others who were scheduled to be on stage were caught in the historical traffic jam. He had done 5 or 6 encores to the point of what I imagine was a combination of exhaustion and exhiliration. He had run out of songs to sing at that moment and then brilliance broke through.
According to Richie: “I start strumming my guitar and the word freedom comes out of my mouth as FREE-dom, FREE-dom, with a rhythm of its own. My foot takes over and drives my guitar into a faster, more powerful rhythm. I don’t know where this is going, but it feels right and somehow I find myself blending it into an old song — ‘Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child’ — a great spiritual my grandmother used to sing to me as a hymn when I was growing up in Brooklyn.”
www.youtube.com/watch?v=fA51wyl-9IE Freedom Richie Havens
He was a road musician who traveled world wide, touching hearts and enhancing lives with his devotion to co-existence. The essence of his music was that it encouraged social action, and he seemed unafraid to take a stand. I had the delighful experience of meeting and interviewing him, I’m thinking, in the 1990’s when he came to the Abington Art Center in Abington, PA to display his artwork. This man, tall of stature, with a larger than life presence, was friendly and approachable. I sat next to him on a bench as we had a casual conversation, with the only indication that it was a journalistic interview was the tape recorder between us. His deep, smooth speaking voice and rising laughter, along with his long fingers, each encased in a ring, were among the most memorable aspects of our time together, as well as the warm hug we shared after the interview that I needed to stand on tiptoes and he came down part way to my height to experience.
My favorite song of his, that he sang with Cliff Eberhardt is called Long Road. It speaks poignantly to the journey he was on in life and will continue with his passing.
http://youtu.be/jJOgCNwBe_U Long Road- Cliff Eberhardt and Richie Havens
Richie, may you follow your dreams, down the long road and may those who follow in your footsteps know they have big shoes to fill.