Ronnie Hawkins, Rockabilly Legend, Dead at 87

by Clayton Edwards

Ronnie Hawkins, the Arkansas-born Canadian musician that helped to shape the face of American music passed away at the age of 87 early this morning. Over the years, Hawkins built a reputation on both sides of the border with his larger-than-life stage presence and booming voice. However, one of his most important contributions to the music world was his gift for discovering and nurturing young musicians. Many members of his backing band, The Hawks, went on to find success.

Ronnie Hawkins’ biggest hits were covers. However, he made those songs his own. The fact that he is best known for covering artists like Bo Diddley (“Who Do You Love”) and Chuck Berry (“40 Days”) and left his mark on the songs speaks volumes about his strength as a performer.

Hawkins was a member of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, and the Canadian Walk of Fame.

Hawkins and The Band perform “Who Do You Love”

According to a CBC report, Ronnie Hawkins’ wife, Wanda, confirmed his passing to the Canadian Press this morning. Hawkins was taken off life support after a long illness. “He went peacefully and he look as handsome as ever,” Wanda said.

The Enduring Legacy of Ronnie Hawkins

Ronnie Hawkins isn’t the most well-known musician in the realm of folk-rock, rockabilly, or country music. However, he had a massive impact on all of those genres and beyond. This impact comes in the form of a group of young musicians that Hawkins put together and mentored in the early 60s. The magical Hawks lineup consisted of Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel, Levon Helm, and Robbie Robertson. Today, we know this group of musicians as The Band.

After leaving Ronnie Hawkins’ The Hawks, The Band moved back to the United States. Not long after that, they gained recognition as Bob Dylan’s backing band after Dylan went electric. A short time later, The Band struck out on their own and released classic songs like “The Weight”, “Up on Cripple Creek”, and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” More importantly, they influenced generations of artists and helped to change the face of American music as a whole. We have Ronnie Hawkins to thank for all of that.

The aforementioned CBC report quoted an excerpt from Levon Helm’s autobiography. Helm wrote, “[Ronnie Hawkins] molded us into the wildest, fiercest speed-driven bar band in America.”

Hawkins stayed in Canada for most of his life. However, he never forgot his Arkansas roots. When fellow Arkansan Bill Clinton won the presidency in 1993, Hawkins played his inauguration. Hawkins made a lasting impression on the former president. In a 2004 documentary titled Hawkins: Still Alive and Kickin’, Clinton said, “If the world had more people like Ronnie Hawkins, we’d do less stupid things to each other, we’d hurt fewer people, we’d have a lot more laughs. I’ve never met another one like him.”