Richie Havens has died aged 72 from a heart attack.
The singer’s talent agency, Roots Agency, confirmed that Havens died at home in Jersey City, New Jersey. Having spent four decades performing live and releasing music, Havens announced last month that he would no longer be touring due to health issues.
“Beyond his music, those who have met Havens will remember his gentle and compassionate nature, his light humour and his powerful presence,” a family statement said. His agent Tim Drake added that Havens had been “gifted with one of the most recognisable voices in popular music.” Adding: “His fiery, poignant, soulful singing style has remained unique and ageless.”
Among those paying tribute, Stephen Stills said “Richie Havens was one of the nicest most generous and pure individuals I have ever met. When I was a young sprite in Greenwich Village, we used to have breakfast together at the diner on 6th Avenue next to The Waverly Theatre. He was very wise in the ways of our calling. He always caught fire every time he played. 50 years after hearing Handsome Johnny for the first time and being blown away by Richie’s magic, he sang that same song the last time I saw him, and it had exactly the same fire and passion and effect on me as when I first heard that unique Richie Havens ‘thing’ – that can never be replicated.”
Havens was born in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. He came to prominence in the New York folk scene in the 1960s. Writing in Chronicles Volume 1, Bob Dylan remembered, “One singer I crossed paths with a lot, Richie Havens, always had a nice-looking girl with him who passed the hat and I noticed that he always did well.”
Havens released over 25 albums, including 1966’s Mixed Bag and 1968’s Richard P. Havens, 1983. He was the opening act at Woodstock, later telling Rolling Stone that “My fondest memory was realizing that I was seeing something I never thought I’d ever see in my lifetime – an assemblage of such numbers of people who had the same spirit and consciousness.”
Aside from his own material, Havens also recording successful versions of Bob Dylan’s “Just Like A Woman” and several Beatles songs, including “With A Little Help From My Friends” and “Here Comes The Sun” – the latter gave him a Top 20 hit in America.
In 1993, he performed at US President Bill Clinton’s inauguration. In 2000, he published his autobiography, They Can’t Hide Us Anymore, and he released his final album, Nobody Left to Crown, in 2008.