Freedom

Album: Woodstock: Music from the Original Soundtrack and More (1970)
  • Richie Havens became a household name after opening the 1969 Woodstock festival, which included an improvised encore called "Freedom," based on the traditional spiritual "Motherless Child." With his roots in the Greenwich Village folk scene and a handful of eclectic albums in his repertoire, Havens was an ideal choice to play the Woodstock festival, but he was never meant to have top billing. A traffic jam held up several of the performers and Havens, who was slated as the fifth act, was urged on stage (along with his band: Eric Oxendine on bass, Paul Williams on lead guitar, and Daniel Ben Zebulon on congas). Three hours later, he ran out of songs and created the enduring anthem on the spot. "When you hear me play that long intro, it's me stalling. I was thinking, 'What the hell am I going to sing?'" he explained. "I think the word 'freedom' came out of my mouth because I saw it in front of me. I saw the freedom that we were looking for. And every person was sharing it, and so that word came out."
  • "'Freedom' has become the anthem of youth wherever I go," Havens told DISCoveries magazine in 1994. "But I'll sing it for the rest of my life, if only to show the rest of the world what I think an American is. Sometimes I think we don't know ourselves. But people are all the same, everywhere. They laugh in the same places, even if they don't know the language."
  • Havens recalled his Woodstock appearance in a 1990 interview with Guitar magazine: "I was absolutely crazy when walked up on that stage. I was supposed to be fifth on the bill and here I am going up first. The concert was three hours late and I'm thinking they're going to throw beer cans at me. I was onstage for three hours. A lot of people don't know that, because there's only two songs in the movie. But I did about nine or ten encores, because I thought I was finished, went off, and they didn't have anyone to go on behind me, so I had to go back out again. At the same time, the sound was the best I ever played under, and heard my voice go right out over the hillside to New York City. It was the most amazing thing. It was the perfect marriage of sound and air and environment."
  • He performed this at the opening ceremony for the 2008 Cannes Film Festival at the request of jury president Sean Penn.
  • This was released as a single in 1972 but failed to chart.
  • This was featured in the Quentin Tarantino film Django Unchained (2012).
  • Haven's Woodstock performance was a huge influence on Portugal. The Man lead singer John Gourley - he wasn't alive then, but saw footage from the 25th anniversary release of the film. Gourley's dad attended the festival, which was a big topic in their household. When Portugal. The Man made their 2017 album, they named it Woodstock and opened it with the song "Number One," which contains a sample of Havens singing "Freedom."

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