Ronnie Hawkins is dead. The Arkansas-born artist who mentored the musicians who later became known as The Band has died aged 87. Hawkins is considered one of Canada’s most important rock ‘n’ roll stars. Canadian media reports that he died as a result of an illness.

Colleagues and friends have taken to social media to mourn Hawkins. The Band’s Robbie Robertson, 78, said Hawkins taught him and his bandmates “how it’s done”: “Not only was he a great artist, great performer and bandleader, but he had a humor like no other,” Robertson tweeted . He was unique. “And he will live on in our hearts forever. My deepest condolences to his family.” Canadian author Margaret Atwood (82) tweeted at the news of Hawkins’ death that it was “very sad to hear this”.

Ronnie Hawkins was born in Huntsville, Arkansas in 1935 and was already known in the 1950s. Nicknamed “The Hawk,” he had minor hits and ran a club in Fayetteville that hosted the likes of Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Conway Twitty. Hawkins himself first played in Canada in the late 1950s and apparently realized he had better career opportunities there.

He became the band leader of Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks, whose members became independent in 1963 under the name The Band and became stars. Hawkins also remained in touch with the group. He also appeared in the 1978 Martin Scorsese film The Band, about The Last Waltz, The Band’s 1976 farewell concert at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco.

According to media reports, Hawkins also looked after numerous young Canadian musicians who had successful careers. Hawkins lived in Peterborough, Ontario and released several singles, including “Bluebirds in the Mountain” and “Down in the Alley”. The musician is also said to have been friends with John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

Hawkins is survived by his wife Wanda, their two sons Ronnie Jr. and Robin, and daughter Leah.

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