Ronnie Hawkins death: Southern rockabilly singer and mentor was 87

Ronnie Hawkins, the rockabilly singer who helped shape and launch the band and other Canadian rock artists, died sunday after battling a long illness. He was 87 years old.

Hawkins’ death was confirmed at Radio Canada by his wife, Wanda: “He passed away peacefully and he looked as good as ever.”

The musician, revered by his peers and followers as ‘The Hawk’, increased his reputation with his top-charting single, ‘Mary Lou’, which reached No. 26 on the US charts. The Hawk was famous for his stage presence, characterized by his rugged voice and humorous exchanges, including his “camel ride” dance.

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Ronnie Hawkins
Ronnie Hawkins died on Sunday after battling a long illness. (Bettmann Archive)

The Arkansas native began touring Ontario in 1958. By the time he was featured in a CBC Telescope documentary, he was loved by Canadian artists and audiences.

“You know, I don’t know anything about Canadian politics or the price of wheat or Niagara Falls,” he said in the documentary. “But I do know one thing: I’m sure to dig it up here.”

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As a young man, Hawkins enlisted in the National Guard and the Army, but his main interest was always music as he started playing in local bars in 1953. In 1959, Hawkins entered into a deal with Roulette Records, running ‘Forty Days’. Mary Lou’ and an appearance on American bandstand.

Ronnie Hawkins, Wanda Hawkins
“He passed away peacefully and looked better than ever,” Ronnie’s wife Wanda said. (Getty Images for TIFF)

As one of the early pioneers and legends of that instinctive combination of country soul and blues known as Rockabilly, Hawkins’ catalog spans a unique hybrid of rustic sounds as he worked with many bands over the years. However, it was The Band’s five specifics that would help establish Hawk’s reputation in musical lore.

Hawkins has recorded and collaborated with many of the greats, from Duane Allman to Bob Dylan – who he portrayed in Dylan’s widely filmed film Renaldo and Clara. Notoriously, John Lennon and Yoko Ono were guests at his farm during an extended stay in Toronto in 1969.

His mentorship of Garth Hudson, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, Levon Helm and Robbie Robertson would eventually lead to the band supporting Bob Dylan on his round the world tour in 1966. The five all met while playing with Hawkins, who hired them a by one to perform alongside him across rural North America as “the Hawks”, until their split.

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Ronnie Hawkins
The Hawk was famous for his stage presence, characterized by his rugged voice and humorous exchanges, including his “camel ride” dance. (Wireframe)

The group would go on to make their own mark as a critically acclaimed group with albums and hits such as “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”, “Up on Cripple Creek”, and “The Weight”.

“We have Ronnie Hawkins to thank for being instrumental in bringing us together and teaching us the ‘rules of the road,’ so to speak,” Robertson said when the band were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 1994.

As an honorary Canadian, Hawkins won a Juno Award for Male Country Singer of the Year in 1982 and received lifetime achievement awards from the Junos in 1996 and the Canadian Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. of Music (SOCAN) in 2007. In 2014, he accepted an honorary appointment as an Officer of the Order of Canada.

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