The music world has lost a legend. Robbie Robertson, lead guitarist and primary songwriter of The Band, passed away in his sleep at age 80. Family member Dawn Robertson confirmed the news to NPR.
Robbie Robertson was a fixture in Americana music, writing some of the most iconic songs of all-time, such as “The Weight,” “Up On Cripple Creek” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” The latter track, which told the story of Confederate soldiers from their point of view, received both critical acclaim and controversy when it was released.
Robertson’s influence on rock ‘n’ roll is incalculable and his songwriting will live on through his timeless creations. His vision and legacy will continue to shape generations to come.
In 1965, rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins’ backing group, Robertson and The Band, first gained acclaim as the live backing unit for Bob Dylan. They soon hit stardom with their classic albums ‘Music From Big Pink’ (1968) and ‘The Band’ (1969). In 1976, Martin Scorsese immortalized The Band by filming their last show, featuring a host of star guests. The project was released two years later as the iconic documentary, ‘The Last Waltz’.
In subsequent decades, The Band would reunite numerous times without founding member Robertson. The guitarist went on to work with director Martin Scorsese on various soundtracks – such as ‘Raging Bull’ and ‘The Color of Money’- whilst also releasing solo albums in his own right. His most recent offering, ‘Sinematic’, came out in 2019, carving out Robertson’s legacy in music forever more.
Tragedy has struck the Canadian musical collective known as The Band, with the death of Robbie Robertson on April 25th. Robertson was the fourth member of The Band to pass away, joining Richard Manuel (1986), Rick Danko (1999) and Levon Helm (2012). With only Garth Hudson surviving as its living member, The Band’s legacy is now in the hands of history.
Before he later became an international rock star, Robertson was born Jaime Royal Robertson – the son of a Mohawk mother raised on the Six Nations reserve in Ontario. It wasn’t until much later that he discovered his biological father, Alexander Klegerman, was a Jewish member of the Toronto underworld notorious for his gambling. “Robbie’s real dad was a Hebrew gangster,” said former bandmate, Hawkins – who appeared in the documentary Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band.
With four of its members now gone, The Band’s story will live on through not only its classic hits but also through the life-story of its most unique member: Robbie Robertson.