“Music is the major form of communication. It's the commonest vibration, the people's news broadcast, especially for kids.” – Richie Havens
Singer, songwriter and guitarist Richie Havens’ 1969 appearance at Woodstock – more out of necessity than because he was supposed to be a featured performer – catapulted him into stardom and was a major turning point in his career. As the festival's first performer, he was supposed to “warm up” the crowd. Instead, he held the crowd for nearly three hours, continuing to play because many artists scheduled to perform after him were delayed in reaching the festival location with highways at a virtual standstill.
He was called back for numerous encores, obliged, and having run out of tunes, he improvised a song based on the old spiritual “Motherless Child,” that became his world-famous song Freedom.
Not just a “performer,” Havens, who was born in 1941 and died in 2013, increasingly devoted his energies to educating young people about ecological issues. He founded the Northwind Undersea Institute, an oceanographic children’s museum on City Island in the Bronx. That, in turn, led to the creation of the Natural Guard, an organization Havens describes as a way of helping kids learn that they can have a hands-on role in affecting the environment.
“Children study the land, water, and air in their own communities,” he said with pride shortly before his death. “It’s empowering because they see how they can make positive changes from something as simple as planting a garden in an abandoned lot."
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