Happy Birthday Richie Havens: Performing ‘Handsome Johnny’

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Late renowned folk musician Richie Havens was born on this date in 1941. The Brooklyn, New York-native died in 2013 at the age of 72. A prominent figure in the 1960s Greenwich Village folk scene, he performed many memorable cover versions of songs by his contemporaries such as The Beatles and Bob Dylan, as well as several notable originals like “Freedom” and “Handsome Johnny.”

Havens’ live performance of both of those songs was included in the Woodstock concert film recorded at the historic 1969 music festival in New York. Opening the festival with a marathon three-hour set, the Woodstock appearance was a pivotal point in Havens’ career, establishing him among the icons of the era. While “Freedom” at Woodstock was improvised — Havens had completed his setlist but was tasked with stretching his performance while other acts on the bill arrived at on-site — “Handsome Johnny” was a pre-written original.

Havens co-wrote the anti-war/peace-promoting anthem with future Academy Award-winning actor Louis Gossett Jr. The two met in Greenwich Village in the 1960s when both were burgeoning folk musicians. The song first appeared on Havens’ 1966 debut album Mixed Bag. Below is video of Havens performing “Handsome Johnny” at Woodstock in 1969, followed by a collaboration with Gossett from July 4, 1987 at the Welcome Home concert for Vietnam veterans held at the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland. Watch both clips here:

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