Levon Helm, longtime drummer in The Band, dead at 71

Thu Apr 19, 2012 6:31pm EDT
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By Ellen Wulfhorst

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Levon Helm, the drummer for The Band whose twangy vocals brought a poignancy and earthiness to songs like "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" and "Up on Cripple Creek," died on Thursday at the age of 71 from cancer, his manager said.

The three-time Grammy Award winner had been fighting throat cancer since 1998.

"Levon Helm passed peacefully this afternoon," Helm's manager Barbara O'Brien said in a statement.

"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."

Tributes immediately began pouring in from fans, popping up on Twitter at a fast rate.

Although the cancer silenced Helm's crystal-clear tenor for a while, he strengthened his voice sufficiently to resume singing in 2004. He hosted a regular series of what he called "Midnight Ramble" concerts that often featured big-name stars at his home-studio in Woodstock, New York.

In addition to singing, Helm played drums, mandolin and other string instruments in The Band, one of the most revered and influential rock groups to emerge from the 1960s. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, it played a brand of rustic rock that drew on country, blues and rhythm and blues and sounded quintessentially American - even though Helm was the only member not from Canada.

Helm's daughter Amy, who sang in his latest band, and wife, Sandy, announced on Tuesday the he was in the final stage of his fight with cancer.   Continued...

Musician Levon Helm attends the 22nd annual W.C. Handy Awards show in Memphis, in this May 24, 2001 file photo. Helm, a longtime member of The Band, is in the final stages of cancer, his family said on Tuesday. Helm, 71, who also toured with Ringo Starr's All Star band in the 1980s and won a Grammy Award for his 2011 release "Ramble at the Ryman," had canceled a series of recent gigs, raising fears about his health. REUTERS/Jeff Mitchell/Files