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Music icon Ronnie Hawkins, who influenced a generation of Canadian rock artists, has died at 87.
The U.S. Southern rockabilly singer died Sunday morning after a long illness, his wife, Wanda, told the Canadian Press.
“He went peacefully and he looked as handsome as ever,” she said.
The legend, best known for hits such as, Who Do You Love?, Ruby Baby and Mary Lou, was part of a group of early musicians from the southern United States who blended country soul with blues to create a style of music known as Rockabilly.
Born and raised in Arkansas, the musician fondly known as “The Hawk,” “Rompin’ Ronnie” or “Mr. Dynamo,” formed his first band, The Hawks, when he was studying at the University of Arkansas in the 1950s.
He and his band had performed locally, but toured Ontario in 1958 on the recommendation of musician Conway Twitty.
Canadian audiences fell in love with his style of music. And the love was mutual, as the time Hawkins spent north of the border spurred his decision to move to Canada and become a permanent resident in 1964, according to Hawkins’ website.
After landing a record deal with Roulette Records in 1959, he gained wider recognition when singles Forty Days and Mary Lou, which both debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 chart that summer.
Aside from performing, Hawkins was also known for nurturing musical talent, recruiting Canadians Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson for his band when he moved to Canada.
The four would go on to be the backup band for Bob Dylan during his 1966 tour, and the Canadians and another Hawks’ bandmember, Levon Helm, would eventually form The Band.
When the supergroup was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, guitarist Robertson paid tribute to his mentor.
“We should thank Ronnie Hawkins in being so instrumental in us coming together and for teaching us the ‘code of the road,’ so to speak,” Robertson said.
Other famous Hawk alumni include David Clayton Thomas, of Blood Sweat and Tears, actor Beverly D’Angelo, Lawrence Gowan, of the band Styx, and Burton Cummings and David Foster, according to Hawkins’ website.
Canadian accolades for Hawkins include a Juno Award for country male vocalist of the year in 1982 and an honorary appointment as officer of the Order of Canada in 2014.