Rock and roll legend Ronald Hawkins, professionally known as Ronnie Hawkins, who launched the Toronto-based American-Canadian rock ensemble ‘The Band’, died after a prolonged illness at the age of 87, reports ‘Variety’.
His wife, Wanda confirmed his death to ‘The Canadian Press’ as she said, “He went peacefully and he looked as handsome as ever.”
‘Variety’ states, the musician, revered by his peers and followers as ‘The Hawk’ grew his reputation with his highest-charting single ‘Mary Lou’ which reached No. 26 in the U.S. charts. The Hawk was famous for his stage presence, characterised by his robust vocals and humorous exchanges, including his signature ‘camel walk’ dance.
The Arkansas native began touring in Ontario in 1958. By the time he was featured in a CBC Telescope documentary, he was beloved by Canadian artists and audiences.
As a young man, Hawkins enlisted in the National Guard and the army, but his main interest was always music as he began playing in local bars in 1953. In 1959, Hawkins scored a deal with Roulette Records, leading to hits like ‘Mary Lou’ and an appearance on ‘American Bandstand’.
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 specific five who would help establish the Hawk’s reputation in music lore.
As per ‘Variety’, Hawkins recorded and collaborated with several of the greats from Duane Allman to Bob Dylan whom he portrayed in Dylan’s “Renaldo and Clara” film. Notoriously, John Lennon and Yoko Ono were guests of his farm during an extended Toronto stay in 1969.
His mentorship of Garth Hudson, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, Levon Helm and Robbie Robertson would eventually lead the band to back Bob Dylan for his around-the-world 1966 tour. The five all met playing with Hawkins, who famously hired them one by one to perform alongside him across rural North America as “the Hawks,” until their split.
As an honorary Canadian, Hawkins 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. In 2014, he accepted an honorary appointment as an officer of the Order of Canada.