Folk Legend Richie Havens: ‘Résumé – The Best of’ Bio (Rhino, 1993-94)


In March 1993, Rhino Records released “Résumé: The Best of Richie Havens,” a single-disc collection of the legendary folk singer and Woodstock opening act’s best-known and favorite recordings from the 1960s and 1970s. The following is the artist biography written by Stephen K. Peeples, then the archival label’s West Coast Media Relations director, for the CD’s press kit, and updated slightly in August 1994 before Havens’ appearance at the Bethel ’94 Woodstock 25th anniversary concert.

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Richie Havens is gifted with one of the most recognizable voices in popular music. His fiery, poignant, always soulful singing style has remained unique and ageless since he first emerged from the Greenwich Village folk music scene in the early 1960s. It’s a voice that has inspired and electrified audiences from the Village clubs to Woodstock in 1969 to the 1993 Presidential Inaugural festivities.

Richie continues to view his calling as a high one. As he told The Denver Post in a May ’93 interview, “I really sing songs that move me. I am not in show business and never was. I’m in the communications business. That’s what it’s about for me.”

Born January 21, 1941, in Brooklyn, New York, Richard P. Havens grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant projects, the eldest of nine children. His grandfather toured with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, and his father was a piano player who worked with a number of bands around the country, so Richie took to performing like a natural. As he grew older, Richie helped organize a series of street corner doo-wop groups and, at 14, performed with the McCrea Gospel Singers.

Richie Havens and Noel Paul Stookey, Paul of Peter, Paul & Mary.

Three years later, Havens left high school and sought out the artistic simulation of Greenwich Village. “I saw the Village as a place you could escape and express yourself,” he recalls. “I first went over there to perform poetry in the late ’50s during the Beatnik days. Then I drew portraits for about two years. I’d stay up all night listening to folk music in the clubs, but it took a while before I thought of picking up a guitar.”

He finally did so at the urging of Fred Neil, who while performing onstage kept overhearing Havens singing along with his songs from the audience, in harmony.

Noel Paul Stookey (the Paul in folk trio Peter, Paul & Mary), Len Chandler, and Dino Valente (a stage name of Chester Powers Jr.) were also among the folk singers and songwriters who had an impact on Havens as he made his way from singing along from the audience to singing solo on the stage. Nina Simone became a key vocal influence as well.

Havens’ reputation soon spread throughout Village folk circles and beyond. He recorded two albums’ worth of demos for producer Alan Douglas‘ Douglas International in 1965 and ’66, though none was released at the time.

After joining forces with legendary manager Albert Grossman (who was managing Peter, Paul & Mary as well as another early Havens supporter, Bob Dylan), Havens landed a deal with the Verve label, which released “Mixed Bag” in 1967. This auspicious debut album featured standout tracks like Jerry Merrick’s “Follow” (later heard on the soundtrack to the hit 1978 film “Coming Home“), a striking version of Bob Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman,” and “Handsome Johnny,” which Havens co-wrote with friend and actor Louis Gossett Jr.

Something Else Again” (1968) became Havens’ first album to hit the Billboard chart and pulled “Mixed Bag” onto the chart as well. That same year, Douglas added instruments to the ’65-’66 demos and released two albums – “Richie Havens’ Record” and “Electric Havens” (the latter charted; the former didn’t). Havens’ first co-production, the two-disc “Richard P. Havens, 1983” (Verve, 1969), gave fans a taste of the exciting live sound that first earned widespread notice in New York.

By the decade’s end, he was in great demand as a live performer on the international folk and pop club circuit. He played the 1966 Newport Folk Festival; the 1967 Monterey Jazz Festival; the January 1968 Woody Guthrie Memorial Concert at Carnegie Hall; the December 1968 Miami Pop Festival; the 1969 Isle of Wight Festival, and, of course, the 1969 Woodstock Music & Art Fair in upstate New York.

Deano Williams, Richie Havens, and Daniel Ben Zebulonat open the Woodstock Music & Art Fair on August 15, 1969. Photo: Henry Diltz / Henry Diltz Photography. Used with permission.

Havens’ Woodstock appearance proved to be a major turning point in his career. As the festival’s opening act (he was scheduled fifth, but the only one ready by showtime at 5 p.m. August 15), he held the multitudes spellbound with a 10-song set that lasted nearly an hour, though to him it felt “something like two or three hours,” as he often recalled.

Richie Havens with Deano and Daniel at Woodstock, August 15, 1969. Photo: Henry Diltz / Henry Diltz Photography. Used with permission.

Called back for yet another encore, he improvised a song based on the traditional African-American spiritual “Motherless Child” that became “Freedom.”

With the release of the “Woodstock” documentary film in 1970, Havens’ performance of “Freedom” eventually reached a worldwide audience of millions.

Meanwhile, Havens switched labels to Stormy Forest (distributed by MGM) and delivered his “Stonehenge” LP in 1970. Later that year came “Alarm Clock,” which yielded the #16 single “Here Comes the Sun” (interpreting George Harrison’s classic from The Beatles’ “Abbey Road”) and became the first of his albums to reach Billboard’s Top 30. Subsequent Stormy Forest albums included “The Great Blind Degree” (1971), “Richie Havens On Stage” (1972), and “Portfolio” (1973).

Branching into acting during the 1970s, he was featured in the 1972 stage presentation of The Who’s “Tommy,” had the lead role in the 1974 film version of “Catch My Soul” (based on Shakespeare’s “Othello”), and co-starred with comedian Richard Pryor in “Greased Lightning” (1977).

Havens also made memorable appearances on such television programs as “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.” On the latter program, the audience was so enthusiastic that Carson asked Havens to return the following night. In the show’s long history, the only other guest booked back-to-back based on such an overwhelming audience response was Barbra Streisand.

During the latter 1970s, Havens embarked on solo tours of the Middle East and Europe in addition to his constant U.S. concert excursions. He continued to release albums as well, including “Mixed Bag II” (Polydor, 1974), “The End of the Beginning” (A&M, 1976), “Mirage” (A&M, 1977), and “Connections” (Elektra/Asylum, 1979).

Increasingly, Havens devoted his energies to educating young people about ecological issues. In the mid-1970s, he co-founded the Northwinds Undersea Institute, an oceanographic museum for children, located on City Island in the Bronx.

This in turn led to Havens’ founding of the Natural Guard in early 1990. Havens describes the organization as “a way of helping kids to learn that they can play a hands-on role in affecting the environment. Children study the land, water, and air in their own communities and see how they can make positive changes.” Based in New Haven, Connecticut, the Natural Guard now has chapters across America, from Brooklyn to Hawaii, and continues to grow.

The 1980s were productive years for Havens in a number of areas. He spent much time performing for his devoted fans in Italy, where he also produced his “Common Ground” album (Connection, 1987). Back in the States toward the end of the decade and into the 1990s, he recorded the albums “Sings Beatles & Dylan” (Rykodisc, 1987), “Simple Things” (RBI, 1988), and “Now” (Solar/Epic, 1991).

Havens also became an oft-heard voice on the airwaves through his extensive radio and TV voice-over work on behalf of such major clients as McDonald’s (for which he earned a Clio Award), Budweiser, the Cotton Association of America, and AMTRAK. (Beware of impostors: other well-known spots for Hertz and Greyhound feature someone else imitating Richie’s voice!)

A landmark performance on Havens’ ever-busy calendar in 1992 was his appearance at the Columbia Records commemorative concert saluting Bob Dylan’s 30-year recording career, held October 16 at Madison Square Garden. Havens’ show-stopping version of “Just Like a Woman” was hailed by many as the all-star evening’s finest performance.

Then, in January 1993, Havens helped to usher in the Bill Clinton presidency by performing at the Earth Ball, a special Inaugural event sponsored by Renewal America.

March ’93 saw the release of “Résumé: The Best of Richie Havens” on Rhino, a long-overdue anthology of his seminal late ’60s-early ’70s recordings. Combined with his unstinting touring, the CD helped to raise his profile still further.

The spring of 1994 found Havens preparing a concert video for release, as well as acting in the film “Failure to Disperse,” a drama set during the 1992 Los Angeles riots. He also delivered a headlining performance at Bethel ’94, a concert extravaganza held August 13-14 at the site of the 1969 Woodstock Festival.

For Havens, music-making is a continuous process. “My albums are meant to be a chronological view of the times that we’ve come through, what we were thinking about, and what we were doing to grow and change,” he said. “There’s a universal point that we all respond to, where all songs apply to everyone, and this is what I’m still addressing today.”

Through it all, Richie Havens has remained a voice of rare eloquence and integrity.

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Richie Havens, early 1990s.

“Résumé: The Best of Richie Havens” – Tracks

1. “High Flyin’ Bird” (writer Billy Edd Wheeler; producer John Court – 3:38)
2. “Drown in My Own Tears” (writer Henry Glover; producer Johanan Vigoda – 4:22)
3. “Morning, Morning” (writer Tuli Kupferberg; producer John Court – 2:21)
4. “Just Like a Woman” (writer Bob Dylan; producer John Court – 4:50)
5. “The Dolphins” (writer Fred Neil; producers Mark Roth and Richie Havens – 5:11)
6. “Here Comes the Sun” (writer George Harrison; producer Mark Roth and Richie Havens – 3:49)
7. “God Bless the Child” (writers Billie Holiday and Arthur Herzog Jr.; producers Mark Roth and Richie Havens – 6:19)
8. “The Klan” (writers A. Grey and D. Grey; producer John Court – 4:35)
9. “Handsome Johnny” (writers Richie Havens and Louis Gossett Jr.; producer John Court –3:57)
10. “Follow” (writer Jerry Merrick; producer John Court – 6:24)
11. “Younger Men Grow Older” (writers/producers Richie Havens and Mark Roth – 4:02)
12. “Medley: Run Shaker Life / Do You Feel Good” (writer Richie Havens; producers Mark Roth and Richie Havens – 8:37)
13. “What About Me” (writer Dino Valenti; producer Richie Havens – 6:12)
14. “The Minstrel From Gault” (writers/producers Richie Havens and Mark Roth – 3:36)
15. “Rocky Raccoon” (writers John Lennon and Paul McCartney; producers Mark Roth and Richie Havens (5:08)
16. “San Francisco Bay Blues” (writer Jesse Fuller; producer John Court – 2:31)
17. “Freedom” (Adapted From “Motherless Child”) (writer Richie Havens; producer Eric Blackstead – 3:27)

Find all the lyrics at

Richie Havens, Santa Monica, 1994. Photo: Henry Diltz / Henry Diltz Photography. Used with permission.

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Coda: Richie Havens left this world on April 22, 2013, at age 72. Read a heartfelt tribute by Rona Elliot, who was among the production staff at Woodstock.

Stephen K. Peeples is a Grammy-nominated multi-media writer-producer and award-winning radio/record-industry veteran raised in Miami and Los Angeles by career newspaper journalists and music lovers. Based in Santa Clarita, just north of L.A., Peeples wrapped a 45-year media career in 2021 which included seven years at Rhino Entertainment and working as Richie Havens’ record company publicist on several occasions in the 1990s. See the “Stephen K. Peeples” page on his website. You’ll find more original stories and exclusive interviews posted there and on his YouTube channel.

Richie Havens and Stephen K. Peeples, Santa Monica, 1994. Photo: Henry Diltz / Henry Diltz Photography.

Article: Folk Legend Richie Havens: ‘Resume – The Best of’ Bio (Rhino, 1993-94)
Category: News and Reviews
Author: Stephen K. Peeples
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