Remembering Richie Havens

A reflection on the legendary folk singer and guitarist Richie Havens after his passing. 

Rod Meade Sperry
23 April 2013
Photo by Michael Rowen

Richie Havens, the legendary folk singer and guitarist who opened Woodstock and continued as a respected musician throughout his life died yesterday of a heart attack at age 72. (The music-industry publication Billboard has an obituary for Havens, here.)

Havens was a contemporary of Bob Dylan and others of the Greenwich Village folk scene who came up alongside and with the Beat poets, artists, and socially active figures of New York City in the 1950s and 60s. Like many of them, Havens too absorbed at least some influence from Buddhism.

A 2008 list of his favorite books, published by The Week, includes titles by Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama—as well as Rumi, Nina Simone, and Rimbaud. (Walter Parks, who played as lead guitarist Havens, is a fan of Thich Nhat Hanh’s as well, having visited Nhat Hanh’s monastery in France.)

Was Havens a Buddhist? That’s unclear. What is clear is that he was sympathetic and active on behalf of the dharma in America. He played the Tibetan Freedom Concert in 1999, and, as our editor-in-chief Melvin McLeod recalls, Havens’ performances at Tricycle magazine benefits in the early 90s as show-stoppers.

Buddhist or not, Havens’s voice is one cherished by his generation and will remain so for many to follow, resonating as it did with simple, hopeful, beauty.

Rod Meade Sperry. Photo by Megumi Yoshida, 2024

Rod Meade Sperry

Rod Meade Sperry is the editor of Buddhadharma: The Practitioner’s Guide (published by Lion’s Roar), and the book A Beginner’s Guide to Meditation: Practical Advice and Inspiration from Contemporary Buddhist Teachers. He lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, with his partner and their tiny pup, Sid.