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Leader of the iconic group The Band and cinematic composer Robbie Robertson died after a long illness on Wednesday in Los Angeles, California, his management company said. He was 80 years old.
“Robbie was surrounded by his family at the time of his death, including his wife, Janet, his ex-wife, Dominique, her partner Nicholas, and his children Alexandra, Sebastian, Delphine, and Delphine’s partner Kenny,” Jared Levine, Robertson’s manager of 34 years, told Variety. “He is also survived by his grandchildren Angelica, Donovan, Dominic, Gabriel and Seraphina.”
Born Jaime Royal “Robbie” Robertson on July 5, 1943, the Grammy-nominated guitarist and singer-songwriter is best known for writing “The Weight,” “Up On Cripple Creek,” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” among many other hits released by The Band.
Robertson began learning guitar at 10 years old in Ontario, Canada, where he was born. After playing with several bands throughout his teen years, Robertson joined the American rockabilly group Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks in 1961, where he would meet future Band singer-songwriter members, drummer Levon Helm, bassist Rick Danko, pianist Richard Manuel, and organist Garth Hudson.
The group toured and recorded with Hawkins until the mid 1960s when The Hawks, except Helm, joined American folk singer-songwriter Bob Dylan’s controversial “Going Electric” tours in 1965 and 1966.
The following year, Robertson moved to Woodstock, New York, and recorded the “basement tapes” with Dylan, where they officially became known as The Band.
After the widespread popularity of the “basement tapes,” Capitol Records signed the group and released the group’s first two albums, “Music From Big Pink” and “The Band,” and performed at the legendary Woodstock Festival in 1969.
Following their successful debut, the group later released “Stage Fright” in 1970, “Cahoots” the following year, which included “Life Is A Carnival,” and the double live set “Rock Of Ages” in 1972.”
“I always thought, from the very beginning, that this music was born of the blues and country music, Southern stuff,” Robertson reportedly said. “The Mississippi Delta area, and the music came down from the river and from up the river and met, and it made something new. I always looked at that as kind of the source of the whole thing.”
As the group achieved stardom in the early-mid 1970s, Robertson broke the group up on account of reported substance abuse issues from some of the musicians. In 1976, The Band performed “The Last Waltz,” their farewell show in San Francisco that included several guest performances from music legends Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters, Bob Dylan, and many others.
The performance was later turned into a documentary of the same title and directed by legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese. The documentary has been deemed one of the greatest concert films ever made.
Robertson began working as a composer for several of Scorsese’s films, including “Raging Bull,” “The Departed,” “The Wolf of Wall Street,” and “The Irishman.”
Scorsese and Robertson had recently completed his fourteenth film music project, “Killers of the Flower Moon,” just before Robertson passed away.
“Robbie Robertson was one of my closest friends, a constant in my life and my work,” Scorsese said in a statement to NBC News. “Long before we ever met, his music played a central role in my life—me and millions and millions of other people all over this world. The Band’s music, and Robbie’s own later solo music, seemed to come from the deepest place at the heart of this continent, its traditions and tragedies and joys.”
In 1987, Robertson recorded his first self-titled solo album. Four years later, he earned two Grammy nominations for his second solo album, “Storyville.”
Robertson was born on the Six Nations Reserve in Ontario, Canada, with the Mohawk community.
In his memory, the family of Robertson said, “In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that donations be made to the Six Nations of the Grand River to support a new Woodland Cultural Center.”