May 30, 2022
By Jane Brown
For Canadians, Ronnie Hawkins was known as one of the pioneers of the rock scene in this country.
For Americans, he was known for hiring musicians who eventually became The Band.
Ronnie Hawkins died Sunday morning after a long illness at the age of 87.
The news was confirmed by his wife Wanda to The Canadian Press.
“He went peacefully and he looked as handsome as ever,” she said in a phone interview.
(Ronnie Hawkins is shown with then-Governor General David Johnston after receiving the Order of Canada in 2014. Courtesy Gov. of Canada)
Hawkins, often called Rompin’ Ronnie, won a Juno Award for country male vocalist of the year in 1982 and received lifetime achievement awards from both the Junos in 1996 and the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN) in 2007. Always retaining U.S. citizenship, in 2014 he accepted an honorary appointment as officer of the Order of Canada.
Hawkins would eventually be feted himself at benefit shows. For his 60th birthday at Toronto’s Massey Hall, performers included Danko, Helm and Hudson, as well as Sylvia Tyson and Jeff Healey. After quadruple bypass surgery in 2002, the same year he was honoured on Canada’s Walk of Fame, a tribute concert featured the Tragically Hip and Tom Cochrane, among others.
He was the rare American to move to Canada to play rock music in the late 1950s.
With drummer Levon Helm, Hawkins hired a backing band that included guitarist Robbie Robertson, keyboardists Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel and bassist Rick Danko.
They became The Hawks, which was Bob Dylan’s band in the mid-1960s and eventually went on their own as The Band.