Many people in the music industry are reflecting today, after learning of the death of Robbie Robertson, the influential musician, songwriter, and former member of the supergroup called “The Band.”
Robertson died Wednesday at the age of 80. He’s being remembered as a musician who’s influence went far beyond music, especially for young Indigenous people.
Robertson’s mother was from Six Nations and he spent a lot of time there when he was younger and formed lasting connections. And people on the reserve say he became a role model showing young Indigenous people what they could accomplish.
Later in his career Robbie Robertson came to express his Indigenous heritage in his music.
The Woodland Cultural Centre still treasures the original handwritten lyrics of his song “Stomp Dance – Unity.”
Former Six Nations Chief Ava Hill was a long-time friend.
“My heart is heavy because he was a good friend of mine and its a really sad day. It’s a sad day for me,” said Hill.
But she says Robertson left a lasting legacy for people on the reserve, even as their families struggle to overcome the legacy of residential schools.
Robertson’s influence reached throughout popular music, like the recording with former Beatle Ringo Starr and others.
Music expert Eric Alper says Robertson’s Indigenous background helped shape his music.
“He saw his community sing and dance and perform music and talk about stories and talk about their community, bringing down oral traditions about their history into songs,” said Alper.
In turn, he says Robertson’s influence changed music.
“They mixed rock and country and folk and gospel and RnB music into a brand new style of music known as alt country or alt folk influencing everybody from the Beatles in their last two albums,” he said.
People on Six Nations say Robertson’s legacy is going to continue. He was honorary co-chair of the Woodland Cultural Centre and expressed continued support for its work to strengthen Indigenous culture.