You Say It's Your Birthday: Richie Havens

Folk singer Richie Havens is celebrating his 57th birthday today. Perhaps

best-known as the man who opened the first Woodstock festival, the

influence of his thoughtful lyrics and powerful acoustic guitar-playing can

be heard in the work of Ben Harper, Tracy Chapman and, on the pop end of

the spectrum, Hootie and the Blowfish. Havens' raspy voice may also be

familiar to modern listeners from the commercial jingles he sang for

McDonalds and Cotton Incorporated ("The Fabric of Our Lives"), among

others. The eldest of nine children, Havens was born and raised in

Brooklyn, N.Y.

He got his start by singing on street corners for spare change. By the

time he hit his teenage years, Havens could be found singing with the McCrea

Gospel Singers. He dropped out of high school at age 17 and began to make

his

name in the burgeoning, early '60s folk scene of Greenwich Village.

His first album, titled simply Richie Havens Record, was released in

1965, and by the time the next year ended, Havens was continuing on a

seemingly never-ending tour and had released a sophomore effort entitled

Electric Havens.

As a part of his continual touring, Havens hit a majority of the rock

festivals that sprung up in the late '60s, including the Newport Folk

Festival in 1966 and the Miami Pop Festival in 1968, as well as Woodstock

and the Isle

of Wright festival, both in 1969. While Havens could always be counted on

for a solid set, his long touring schedule never translated into massive

sales.

While his unique and heartfelt covers of Bob Dylan and Beatles tunes were

always small successes, his lone chart-success came in 1971 when he hit

#16 on the pop charts with a stirring rendition of the Beatles' "Here Comes

The Sun." Havens continued to tour and record through the '70s but dropped

off the radar screen for most of the '80s. He resurfaced with Simple

Things in 1987 and began appearing with other '60s artists

at oldies shows and benefit concerts that sprung up as '60s fashions and

music once again became hip. Havens hasn't released an album since 1994's

Cuts to the Chase, but he continues to dabble in commercial work and

tour.

Other birthdays: Edwin Starr, 56; Mac Davis, 56; Jimmy Ibbotson (Nitty

Gritty Dirt Band), 51; and Billy Ocean, 48.