Levon Helm, singer and drummer for the Band, passed away on April 19th in New York of throat cancer. He was 71.
Levon’s family had recently posted the following message on his website.
Dear Friends, Levon is in the final stages of his battle with cancer. Please send your prayers and love to him as he makes his way through this part of his journey. Thank you fans and music lovers who have made his life so filled with joy and celebration... he has loved nothing more than to play, to fill the room
up with music, lay down the back beat, and make the people dance! He did it every time he took the stage... We appreciate all the love and support and concern.
From his daughter Amy, and wife Sandy
The statement was made at a time when family and friends believed that he would pass away within hours. Helm held on for another two days and died with dignity surrounded by friends and family.
Helm was diagnosed with throat cancer in the late 90's and recovered his voice after massive radiation therapy. Recently Helm had cancelled a number of performances he was due to play including the April 27th New Orleans Jazz Fest.
Best known for drumming and singing in The Band, Helm was also a three time Grammy Award winning solo artist. After being invited to play in the "Hawks " in the late 50's by Ronnie Hawkins, both Helm and Hawkins formed a new group in the early 60's that would eventually become " The Band" . The musicians recruited were Robbie Robertson on guitar, Rick Danko on bass, Richard Manuel on piano and Garth Husdon on organ. The band continued to play as The Hawks until Ronnie Hawkins left in 1963 at which time they started playing as "Levon and The Hawks" and later the Canadian Squires. By the mid 60's they had reverted to calling themselves The Hawks and it was around this time that Bob Dylan engaged their services as a backing band for touring. Unfortunately many Dylan fans were unimpressed by Dylans new use of electric equipment and downhearted, Levon left the band to work on oil rigs for a couple of years. He was invited to rejoin The Hawks in 1967.
In Helms absence "The Hawks" had become known simply as " the band". Whilst negotiating a recording deal "The Band" was the named used in the contracts and obviously stuck.
Levon played with " The Band" until 1976 when they played their farewell performance famously documented by Martin Scorcese in "The Last Waltz".
"The Band" had reunited in 1983 sans Robbie Robertson. While on tour in 1986, Manuel committed suicide. Helm, Danko and Hudson continued "The Band". They released the album Jericho in 93, High on
The Hog three years later and their final album " Jubilation" in 98.
Post the "The Band", Helm and Danko performed alongside side the likes of Joe Walsh, Dr John and Clarence Clemons in Ringo Starrs All Star Band, Levon played drums and harmonica, and sang "The Weight" and "Up On Cripple Creek" each night. In 1990 Helm, Danko, and Hudson performed as "The Band " at Roger Waters ' The Wall" Live in Berlin.
Levon began to work on solo projects in the 80's and released "Levon Helm and the RCO All Stars" followed by self titled "Levon Helm", followed in 1980 by "American Son" with a third release coming our in 1982, also titled "Levon Helm". He released Dirt Farmer in 2007 having recovered around 80% of his voice after being diagnosed with throat cancer in the late 90's. His final studio album released in 2009" Electric Dirt" won the first ever Grammy for Best Americana Album in 2010.
The 2000's saw Helms performance career focused on the Midnight Ramble where he featured musicians such as Bonnie Raitt, Elvis Costello and Norah Jones.
On May 11, 2011, Helm released a live album Ramble and the Ryman recorded during his September 17, 2008 performance at Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. The album features Helm's band playing six songs by "The Band" and other material, including some songs from previous Helm solo releases. It won the Grammy for Best Americana Album this year.
It was only a week ago that former band guitarist Robbie Robertson sent " love and prayers" to Helm at the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony.
Today, Levon Helms website reads simply,
"Levon Helm passed peacefully this afternoon. He was
surrounded by family, friends and band mates and will be remembered by all he
touched as a brilliant musician and a beautiful soul."