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April 24, 2013

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Wonder Child: Richie Havens on Sesame Street

Joe Hennes works at Sesame Workshop and is the co-proprietor of Tough Pigs.

Folk singer-songwriter Richie Havens passed away this week at the age of 72. In 1969, he brought his unique voice and rhythmic guitar style to Woodstock, where he performed as the festival’s opening act. And in 1975, Havens brought the same raw talent and enthusiasm to Sesame Street.

Richie Havens was brought into the studio to record four songs for the sixth season of Sesame Street, all of which were captured in one day of filming. His best known contribution was “Wonder Child”, a beautiful tune celebrating imagination and the innocence of youth.

Another song Havens performed that day was the original tune, “It’s Pouring”, a take on the nursery rhyme, “It’s Raining, It’s Pouring”. The upbeat song teaches the kids listening at home about the beauty of rain, the hope of a sunny day, and the ways rain can bring us all together.

In 1971, Havens recorded a cover of George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun”, which was his only single to hit the Billboard Top 100. He brought his folk version of the song to Sesame Street for another, undoubtedly memorable weather-related segment, with the underlying theme of optimism he conveyed so well.

Richie Havens also got to put his own spin on Sesame Street’s classic “celebrities count to 20” formula by adding guitar riffs between every few numbers, turning a simple number count into a quasi-song. And he seemed to have a great time doing it too.

Finally, in the 1990s, Richie Havens recorded an updated version of “Imagination Rain”, an animation from way back in 1972. The cartoon stayed the same, but Havens’ music brought new life into it.

Although Richie Havens only made a handful of appearances on the show, he has become a part of Sesame Street history, and we’ll always remember him for it.

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