Richie Havens, the first artist to perform at Woodstock, died this morning at the age of 72 from a heart attack.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, the oldest of nine children, he was forced to stop touring last year following kidney surgery.

Havens was supposed to be the fifth performer on the first day of Woodstock, the 1969 festival in New York State, but with no other performers on site, promoter Michael Lang asked him to go on. Playing close to three hours, he ran out of material and ended up improvising the old spiritual "Motherless Child," which became "Freedom."

A singer, guitarist and songwriter, Havens also interpreted other people's songs, including ones by Bob Dylan and The Beatles.

Havens is survived by three daughters, five grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

Stephen Stills, who also played Woodstock with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, issued a statement on his friend's death, which said, "“Richie Havens was one of the nicest most generous and pure individuals I have ever met. When I was a young sprite in Greenwich Village, we used to have breakfast together at the diner on 6th Avenue next to The Waverly Theatre. He was very wise in the ways of our calling. He always caught fire every time he played. Fifty years after hearing 'Handsome Johnny' for the first time and being blown away by Richie’s magic, he sang that same song the last time I saw him, and it had exactly the same fire and passion and effect on me as when I first heard that unique Richie Havens 'thing' -- that can never be replicated.”