For many, Richie Havens’ powerful voice and unique strummed acoustic guitar style (he tuned his guitar to a chord, which only requires one finger to voice. In Havens’ case, that one finger was his giant left thumb) was one of the highlights of Warner Brothers’ Woodstock documentary. As Bloomberg News notes in Havens’ obit today, he would later earn a comfortable second income as a vocal artist for TV commercials:
He graduated from street-corner doo-wop groups to singing with the McCrea Gospel Singers as a teenager. Fired from his job as a portrait artist in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village after missing work one day, he began performing music. His first album, “Mixed Bag,” was released in 1967.
He formed his own record label, Stormy Forest, which released six of his albums. They included “Alarm Clock,” which featured Havens’s biggest hit single, his cover of George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun.”
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Havens recorded television commercial jingles for companies including Amtrak, McDonald’s Corp. (MCD) and Cotton Incorporated, according to the Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll.
Long active in causes related to the environment, Havens performed at the Environmental Inaugural Ball, one of the festivities associated with the inauguration of President Bill Clinton in January 1993.
He played a sold-out concert in 2009 at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, on the site of Woodstock, as part of events to mark its 40th anniversary.
Havens, 72, “died yesterday of a heart attack at his home in Jersey City, New Jersey,” Bloomberg reports. RIP.