He died yesterday of a heart attack at his home. He was 72. Who can forget his performance at the 1969 Woodstock festival?
Originally he was supposed to be fifth in the sequence of performers but went first when the other performers got delayed. He ended up having to perform for three hours straight until the other acts arrived. For his sixth or seventh encore, exhausted and having run through his entire repertoire (“I sung every song I knew”), he decided to more or less improvise on the theme of ‘freedom’, throwing in themes from spirituals. While slowly tuning his guitar, he worked out in his mind what he would do. The resulting song Freedom, with that powerful pulsing rhythmic beat, was electrifying.
The director of the 1970 documentary Woodstock wisely chose that song to kick off the concert portion of the film and it became his signature song. No one who saw it will forget Havens’ performance. I know I won’t.
Here it is.