by Kevin Amos
For New Pittsburgh Courier

Richie Havens has quietly influenced several generations through his music and community activism. The music of Havens, along with that of others, became the soundtrack for a revolution and many times that revolution was implemented by direct community action. Since the early ’60s, Richie has used his music to bring forth messages of unity and personal freedom.


His music and stories of his journey were recently shared at the Carnegie Lecture Hall in a presentation sponsored by Calliope House. Richie reflected on wisdom his grandmother passed down, the folk rock scene in Greenwich Village, playing stickball in Brooklyn and individual freedom.

Havens agrees that there is a great change in the air. He is overwhelmed by the amount of positive influence previous generation have passed on to our younger folks.

“I believe that what we are about to go through is a marvelous variety of support where it gets fed from one and goes out to others. To see the difference is really far out for me. “My recent experience witnessing a young man in New Orleans performing a Miles Davis piece absolutely blew me away!”

Richie has devoted his energies to educating young people about ecological issues. In the mid-1970s, he co-founded the Northwind Undersea Institute, an oceanographic children’s museum on City Island in The Bronx. That, led to the creation of The Natural Guard, an organization Richie describes as “a way of helping kids learn that they can have a hands-on role in affecting the environment.”

Born in 1941 in Brooklyn, Richie began organizing his neighborhood friends into doo-wop groups and was performing with The McCrea Gospel Singers at 16. He gave the example in our interview of how songs like “Get a Job” and “I’m Not a Juvenile Delinquent” were actually the protest and statement songs of the time. Havens also discussed his work with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Odetta, Nina Simone and others.

He is also featured in the documentary “Soundtrack for a Revolution.” This film tells the story of the American Civil Rights Movement through its powerful music: freedom songs sung on picket lines, in mass meetings, in paddy wagons, and in jail cells by Black and White Americans all over the country. Featuring performances by John Legend, Joss Stone, Wyclef Jean, The Roots, Havens and others, along with riveting archival footage, and interviews with civil rights foot soldiers and leaders, including Congressman John Lewis, Harry Belafonte, Julian Bond and Ambassador Andrew Young,

At the age of 20, he left Brooklyn to seek out the artistic stimulation of Greenwich Village. “I saw the Village as a place to escape to in order to express yourself,” he recalls. “I had first gone there during the beatnik days of the 1950s to perform poetry, and then I drew portraits for two years and stayed up all night listening to folk music in the clubs. It took a while before I thought of picking up a guitar.”

The hour-and-15-minute set included “All Along the Watchtower,” a tune written by his close friend Jimi Hendrix, “Here Comes the Sun” and his world wide anthem, “Freedom.”

(Richies’ current CD is “Nobody Left to Crown” on Verve Forecast and his website is

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