LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - U.S. folk musician Richie Havens, who opened the historic 1969 Woodstock musical festival and energized the crowd with his version of "Motherless Child/Freedom," died of a heart attack on Monday at the age of 72, his talent agency said.
Havens, who emerged from the New York folk scene in the 1960s, died at his home in Jersey City, New Jersey, Roots Agency President Tim Drake told Reuters.
"The Roots Agency represented Richie Havens for many years and regrets to post of his passing on April 22, 2013," the agency said on its website.
Known for his driving guitar and soulful covers of pop and folk songs, Havens recorded, performed and toured for more than four decades, using acoustic guitar music to champion the causes of personal freedom and brotherhood. He retired from touring three years ago.
His family said a public memorial would be announced later and asked for privacy in the meantime.
"Beyond his music, those who have met Havens will remember his gentle and compassionate nature, his light humor and his powerful presence," his family said in a statement.
Havens' improvised version of the gospel song "Motherless Child" evolved into "Freedom" at Woodstock and became an anthem of the 1960s hippie generation. His performance of the song was included in the "Woodstock" concert movie and broadened his audience.
A different version of the "Freedom" song was included on the soundtrack of Quentin Tarantino's award-winning 2012 slavery era movie "Django Unchained."
Other Havens hits included versions of Beatles classics "Here Comes the Sun" and "Strawberry Fields Forever," and The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again."
(Reporting By Jill Serjeant; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Bill Trott)