American folk singer Richie Havens dies aged 72

Woodstock veteran sang for Bill Clinton and Dalai Lama

 Folk musician Richie Havens, who opened the Woodstock music festival in 1963 and performed for three hours, has died of a heart attack in New Jersey. Photograph: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

Folk musician Richie Havens, who opened the Woodstock music festival in 1963 and performed for three hours, has died of a heart attack in New Jersey. Photograph: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

Wed, Apr 24, 2013, 06:00

Richie Havens, the American folk singer who opened the 1969 Woodstock musical festival and energised the crowd with his version of Motherless Child/Freedom , has died.

Havens, who emerged from the New York folk scene in the 1960s and went on to sing for the Dalai Lama and Bill Clinton, died at his home in Jersey City, New Jersey, after suffering a heart attack.

“Beyond his music, those who have met Havens will remember his gentle and compassionate nature, his light humour and his powerful presence,” his family said.

Known for his driving acoustic guitar and soulful covers of songs by The Beatles, Bob Dylan and The Who, Havens used his music to champion the causes of personal freedom and brotherhood. He retired from touring three years ago and released his last album in 2008.

Havens’ improvised version of the gospel song Motherless Child evolved into Freedom at Woodstock and became an anthem of the 1960s hippie generation. His performance at Woodstock, where he opened the festival and played for three hours, proved a breakthrough and the inclusion of the song on the Woodstock concert movie broadened his audience.

A version of Freedom was included on the soundtrack of Quentin Tarantino’s 2012 movie Django Unchained .

Havens sang at Clinton’s 1993 inauguration, performed several times for the Dalai Lama and gave a show-stopping performance of Just Like a Woman at the all-star Bob Dylan 30th anniversary concert in 1992.