US folk musician Richie Havens dies, aged 72

HE was the firebrand folk singer who opened the 1969 Woodstock festival, championing freedom and brotherhood while armed with little more than an acoustic guitar.

Richie Havens, the near legendary musician who was famous for his distinctive rhythmic guitar and singing style has died of a heart attack aged 72, his talent agency confirmed tonight.

He was said to have remained "unique and ageless" since his momentous appearance at the festival which later spawned a legion of imitators.

Recalling the moment he stepped on stage shortly after 5pm in front of some 100,000 people, Brooklyn-born Havens once said: "Everything in my life, and so many others', is attached to that train."

His long and impromptu set - it lasted for more than three hours - entered the lore surrounding Woodstock where other performers included The Who, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Jefferson Airplane.

It was said that he ran out of songs to play and, during one of several encores, improvised a song based on the old Southern spiritual Motherless Child which later became his hit track Freedom. A different version of the song was recently included on the soundtrack of Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained.

In the same year as Woodstock Havens toured to Britain and appeared at the Isle of Wight Festival in August.

"The future lies in the time of the living," he told Rolling Stone in 1968. "The direction for my music is heaven of course."

His reputation as an impressive live performer secured after Woodstock, he went on to record more than a dozen albums, many of which entered the top 200 chart.

His hits included covers of the Beatles' Here Comes the Sun and Strawberry Fields.

Such was his popularity and prestige, he was invited to perform at President Bill Clinton's 1993 inauguration.

"Richie played the most legendary music festivals that ever were and most of the world's greatest concert venues," said a statement from his representatives The Roots Agency.

It added: "But even when performing in a Greenwich Village coffeehouse or a small club or regional theatre, he was eternally grateful that people in any number turned up each time to hear him sing."

"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 in a statement.

Havens died at home in Jersey City, New Jersey.

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