A prolific career in music and film
Robbie Robertson, the iconic musician and singer who led The Band, one of the most influential groups in rock history, has died at the age of 80. Robertson passed away on Wednesday (9 August) in Los Angeles after a long illness, his management confirmed to The Independent.
Robertson was born in 1943 in Toronto, Canada and grew up visiting reservations with his mother who was Native American. He started playing guitar at a young age and was influenced by blues, country, folk and rockabilly music. In 1960, at the age of 16, he joined drummer Levon Helm in the Hawks, the backing band for rockabilly star Ronnie Hawkins. After leaving Hawkins in 1964, the Hawks evolved into The Band, releasing their seminal debut album Music from Big Pink in 1968.
The Band was known for their distinctive blend of Americana music, incorporating elements of rock, soul, gospel and country. Robertson wrote or co-wrote many of their classic songs, such as “The Weight”, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”, “Up on Cripple Creek” and “The Shape I’m In”. The Band also collaborated with Bob Dylan on several occasions, most notably on his 1974 album Planet Waves and the 1975-76 Rolling Thunder Revue tour.
The Band disbanded in 1976 after a farewell concert that was filmed by Martin Scorsese and released as The Last Waltz, a landmark documentary that featured guest appearances by Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison and others. The Band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994 and performed live at the ceremony.
A lasting legacy and a final project
Robertson continued to work on solo music projects after The Band’s breakup, collaborating extensively with Eric Clapton, U2, Peter Gabriel and others. He also explored his Native American heritage on albums such as Music for the Native Americans (1994) and Contact from the Underworld of Redboy (1998). His most recent album was Sinematic (2019), which was inspired by his work on film soundtracks.
Throughout his career, Robertson worked closely with director Scorsese on the soundtracks for his films, starting with The Last Waltz. Robertson then continued to collaborate with Scorsese on the music for his films such as Raging Bull (1980), Casino (1995), The Departed (2006), The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) and The Irishman (2019). Robertson also composed original scores for films such as King of Comedy (1982), Color of Money (1986) and Shutter Island (2010).
Robertson’s final project was Killers of the Flower Moon, Scorsese’s upcoming film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro. The film is based on the true story of the Osage Nation murders in Oklahoma in the 1920s. Robertson recently completed his fourteenth film music project with Scorsese and expressed his excitement about working on a Western and a movie about Native Americans.
“When the Killers of the Flower Moon idea was stirring around and it looked like it could happen, for Marty and me, every once in a while we would be like, ‘Isn’t this amazing, that it’s come to this, that we actually have a story and we have this thing that we’re both in our own way attached to somehow,’” he told Variety in his last interview published two weeks before his death. “Marty and I are both 80 years old, and we’re getting to do a Western, we’re getting to do a movie about Indians, in our own way.”
A tribute from family and fans
Robertson’s family issued a statement announcing his death and asking for donations to the Six Nations of the Grand River to support the building of their new cultural centre. Robertson 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. He is also survived by his grandchildren Angelica, Donovan, Dominic, Gabriel and Seraphina.
“Robbie was a loving husband, father, grandfather and friend. He was also a visionary artist who touched the lives of millions of people with his music and films. He will be dearly missed by all who knew him,” the statement read.
Fans and fellow musicians also paid tribute to Robertson on social media, expressing their admiration for his talent and legacy. Bob Dylan posted a photo of him with Robertson on Instagram with the caption: “Rest in peace Robbie. You were always my brother.” Neil Young wrote on his website: “Robbie Robertson was one of my heroes. He taught me so much about songwriting, guitar playing and storytelling. He was a master of his craft and a true original. I will always remember our times together on and off the stage. He was a giant of music and a great friend.”