Born in Toronto, Ontario, Robertson began playing guitar at the age of 10, and six years later joined drummer Levon Helm in the Hawks, the backing band for rockabilly star Ronnie Hawkins. It was there that Robertson received his rock ‘n’ roll education, which would eventually include future bandmates Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, and Garth Hudson.
Robertson would go on to play with Bob Dylan on his legendary “Going Electric” tours in 1965 and 1966.
Moving to Woodstock in 1967, Robertson and his bandmates recorded the groundbreaking “basement tapes” with Dylan before changing their name to The Band and releasing their seminal “Music from Big Pink” album the following year. The album, featuring the Robertson-penned classic song “The Weight,” is still considered an inflection point in rock history.
In 1969, The Band performed at the legendary Woodstock Festival before releasing an eponymous album that included the Robertson-composed “Up On Cripple Creek” and equally classic (and much covered) “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”
As a testament to their newfound fame, The Band became the first North American rock group to appear on the cover of Time magazine.
More albums followed, including “Stage Fright” in 1970, “Cahoots” the following year which included “Life Is A Carnival,” and the double live set “Rock Of Ages” in 1972.”
The next year, The Band performed before what became the largest rock concert audience in history with an estimated 650,000 people at the Watkins Glen Festival in New York.
In 1976, The Band bade farewell to live performing with “The Last Waltz” concert on Thanksgiving night. Guests including Dylan, Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters, Van Morrison, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell joined the group at San Francisco’s Winterland and the concert film, directed by Martin Scorsese, as well as a three-record box were released in 1978.
The Band’s seventh and final studio album with Robertson was “Islands,” which was released in 1977.
As a film soundtrack producer and composer, Robertson is known for his collaborations with director Martin Scorsese, which began with the rockumentary film The Last Waltz (1978), and continued through a number of dramatic films, including Raging Bull (1980), The King of Comedy (1983), Casino (1995), The Departed (2006), The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), The Irishman (2019), and Killers of the Flower Moon (2023). He worked on many other soundtracks for film and television.
Before he was Robbie Robertson, the future rock star was born Jaime Royal Robertson, the son of a Mohawk mother who was raised on the Six Nations reserve in Ontario. He learned later in life that his biological father, Alexander Klegerman, was a Jewish member of the Toronto underworld who was known for his gambling.
Robertson is the fourth member of The Band to die, following Richard Manuel in 1986, Rick Danko in 1999 and vocalist/drummer Levon Helm in 2012. Keyboardist and organist Garth Hudson is now the group's only living member.