It’s been well over 30 years since Richie Havens opened the Woodstock Music Festival, but the lyrics he sang will be remembered forever. As the folk singer took center stage on August 22, 1969, he sat humbly on a wooden stool and began to cry out the word ‘freedom’ as he played his guitar.
Amidst the Vietnam war, his words weighed heavy in the hearts of a crowd of anti-war protesters, but his message of freedom has reached many different generations thanks to the documentary footage of the event.
The first time I saw Havens, it was on a PBS airing of the Woodstock documentary. I was just 13 years old, but even then I could see the deep connection he made with the audience. It’s no surprise that he opened the show with ‘Motherless Child’, or ‘Freedom’ as it’s known by most people today. The Woodstock performance was a defining moment in Havens’ career, and he gained a tremendous fan-base because of it.
Havens got his start as a gospel singer during his teenage years, but went on to sign with Albert Grossman, the same man that first signed the folk legend, Bob Dylan. Despite his age, Havens continued touring and performing well into the 2000s. His love for the music was evident in everything he did. He wasn’t well known for mainstream success, but he really shined when he played live. Havens died of a heart attack on the 22nd of April, but his message of freedom and peace will live forever.