October 24, 2014 | Updated at 10:33 PM EDT The Latest Entertainment & Celebrity News

Levon Helm, Longtime Drummer in The Band, Dead at 71

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.

By Ellen Wulfhorst, Reuters on Apr 20, 2012 10:16 AM EDT
facebook tweet this pin it plus
Sign Up for Newsletter
  • Levon Helm
  • Levon Helm (Photo : Reuters)

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.

"Thank you fans and music lovers who have made his life so filled with joy and celebration," they said on Facebook. "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.

BACKED UP DYLAN

Helm was born to cotton farmers in 1940 and grew up near the community of Turkey Scratch, outside Helena, Arkansas, with the intention of being a musician. He was a teenager when he became the drummer for another Arkansas native, rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins.

Hawkins took the group to Canada, where he added guitarist Robbie Robertson, bassist Rick Danko and keyboardists Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson to The Hawks. Eventually the four Canadians and Helm would split off.

In 1965, Bob Dylan recruited them to back him up on his first U.S. "electric" tour, a raucous event strung over September 1965 to May 1966 that marked Dylan's transition from acoustic to rock 'n' roll and outraged his folkie fans.

Helm was dismayed by the hostile reception and returned to Arkansas for a two-year hiatus. Eventually reunited with his band mates in 1968 and calling themselves simply The Band, they produced the landmark "Music From Big Pink," an album named for the house they rented near Woodstock.

That was followed the next year by the "brown album" titled The Band. Viewed by most critics as their masterpiece, the album was steeped in old-time rural Americana and made heavy use of Helm's plaintive Southern drawl.

The Band's greatest success came in the early and mid-1970s and, while they were not a huge commercial success, critics loved them. "Up on Cripple Creek," "The Weight" and the Civil War saga "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," also a hit for Joan Baez, were popular on FM radio stations of the time.

Helm stayed with The Band through its 1976 farewell concert, which Martin Scorsese documented in his film "The Last Waltz." While the movie is regarded as perhaps the best rock 'n' roll documentary, Helm derided it and particularly Robertson, whom he bitterly accused of preening for the camera, unfairly claiming writing credits and trying to appear the leader of the group in which all had been equals.

The estranged band mates appeared to make peace just days before Helm's death, when Robertson visited Helm in a New York hospital and later described him as "like an older brother" on Facebook.

Following some solo albums, Helm reunited in 1983 with The Band, minus Robertson. Manuel committed suicide while they were on tour in 1986. The remaining members - Helm, Danko and Hudson - released the final Band album in 1998.

Helm was diagnosed with throat cancer that year.

He earned a spot on Rolling Stone magazine's list of 100 greatest singers of all time. Jim James of the band My Morning Jacket wrote, "There is something about Levon Helm's voice that is contained in all of our voices. It is ageless, timeless and has no race. He can sing with such depth and emotion but he can also convey a good-old fun-time growl."

In 2007, Helm released his first solo studio album in 25 years, "Dirt Farmer," which picked up a Grammy award for best traditional folk album. In 2009, he released "Electric Dirt," winning another Grammy in the new Americana category. In 2011, he won for "Ramble At The Ryman" for best Americana album.

Helm also had a successful side career as an actor, using his aura of earthy dignity in movies such as "The Right Stuff" and "Coal Miner's Daughter," based on the life of country singer Loretta Lynn, in which he played her father.

"Levon Helm will always hold a special place in my heart. He was as great of an actor as a musician," Lynn wrote on the official Loretta Lynn Facebook page. "For me watching him play the role of my daddy in 'Coal Miner's Daughter' is a memory I will always treasure."

© 2014 Enstarz, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

Tagged :   Music
facebook tweet this pin it plus
Contribute to this Story send us a tip send us a tip send us a tip
Sign Up for Newsletters

Around The Web

  • SEARCH ENSTARS

Mike Fisher and Carrie Underwood

Carrie Underwood's Tour Slowing Down This Fall

Country superstar Carrie Underwood spent the summer touring and working on her new album, but this fall the mother-to-be is slowing things down.

Drake

14 Drake Songs To Get You Through "Cuffing Season," Alone

It's Drake's birthday. Let's celebrate with a "Cuffing Season" playlist.

Austin Mahone

Austin Mahone Releasing New Music 'In A Couple Days'?

Is Austin Mahone getting ready to release new music? Sure seems like some could come soon for Mahomies.

Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton

Blake Shelton & Miranda Lambert Are Making Country Music History

Married country music stars Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert have a lot to celebrate this week.

Beyonce and Jay Z

Beyonce and Jay Z Renewed Their Wedding Vows, No Divorce Here!

Well, it looks like John Legend was right to dismiss all of those crazy divorce rumors.

Carrie Underwood

Take A Look Behind Carrie Underwood's "Something In The Water"

Before Carrie Underwood announced that she was pregnant in September, she sat down with Chris Destefano and wrote the first single for her highly anticipated 2014 album 'Greatest Hits: Decade #1'.

Eminem

Eminem Releases Preview of New Song 'Guess Who's Back'?

Guess who's back? Is that the question Eminem is asking on a new song from his upcoming album Shady XV?

Austin Mahone

Austin Mahone Finishing Debut Album While On Tour For Fans

Despite being on tour, Austin Mahone is spending every day in the studio trying to finish his debut album.

Drake

Listent to Drake's New Song, 'How About Now'

Check out Drake's new songs, "How About Now?"

Tim McGraw

Tim McGraw Is A 'Master Of Dramatics'

When it comes to Kip Moore's success in country music, the singer credits Tim McGraw for teaching him the most about performing.

Austin Mahone

Why Austin Mahone Is Complaining About The New iPhones

Is Austin Mahone having phone issues? The 18-year-old took to Twitter to voice his opinions about the new iPhones.

Brantley Gilbert

Brantley Gilbert Gets Engaged To Woman Who Once Got Away

The 29-year-old Georgia native announced on The Bobby Bones Show Tuesday that he's going to marry the woman who inspired his 2011 tune You Don't Know Her Like I Do and 2012's More Than Miles.

Sister Cristina

'The Voice Italy' Singing Nun Releases Shocking Cover As Debut Single

Sister Cristina Scuccia shocked many when she appeared on season two of The Voice Italy and covered mainstream artists including Alicia Keys and Cyndi Lauper.

Eminem

Eminem Reveals Cover To His Upcoming Album 'Shady XV'

The cover shows two chainsaws and a mask that resembles the one worn by Jason from Friday the 13th. Eminem has also worn the mask during his shows. The video also includes the album's release date - Nov. 24.

Justin Bieber accepts the award for favorite pop rock album for "Believe" at the 40th American Music Awards in Los Angeles, California, November 18, 2012.

Justin Bieber Mocks Manny Pacquiao on Instagram; Phillipines' Government Calls for Apology

Just Bieber received backlash for making fun of boxer Manny Pacquiao on Instagram.

Latest News

Drake

14 Drake Songs To Get You Through "Cuffing Season," Alone

It's Drake's birthday. Let's celebrate with a "Cuffing Season" playlist.

Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton

Blake Shelton & Miranda Lambert Are Making Country Music History

Married country music stars Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert have a lot to celebrate this week.

Mike Fisher and Carrie Underwood

Carrie Underwood's Tour Slowing Down This Fall

Country superstar Carrie Underwood spent the summer touring and working on her new album, but this fall the mother-to-be is slowing things down.

Que

EXCLUSIVE: Atlanta Rapper Que Talks Upcoming Mixtape, Misconceptions & More

Close to a year ago, Lebron James posted a video of himself on Instagram dancing to "O.G. Bobby Johnson," a song from up-and-coming rapper Que. The Cleveland Cavaliers small forward included the caption, “My new theme song on gameday!”

Austin Mahone

Austin Mahone Releasing New Music 'In A Couple Days'?

Is Austin Mahone getting ready to release new music? Sure seems like some could come soon for Mahomies.

Beyonce and Jay Z

Beyonce and Jay Z Renewed Their Wedding Vows, No Divorce Here!

Well, it looks like John Legend was right to dismiss all of those crazy divorce rumors.

Jennifer Lopez

Jennifer Lopez Surprises Fans With We Day Performance, Watch

Jennifer Lopez surprised the crowd when she took the stage at We Day in Vancouver on Wednesday and performed a medley of her hits.

Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift Releases Official Tracklist For '1989' Via Instagram

Less than a week before she drops her fifth album, Taylor Swift revealed the 13-song tracklist for 1989.

Tim McGraw

Tim McGraw Talks Elvis & Early Rock Music Influences

Tim McGraw is a big fan of wife Faith Hill's voice, but before the two were married there was one album the country singer would play over and over on the record player.

U2

The U2 iTunes Free Album Didn't Work Out, Debuts Low on Billboard

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - U2's controversial free album on Apple's iTunes had a less than stellar performance once released for commercial sale, coming in at No. 9 in its first week on the Billboard 200 album chart on Wednesday.

Featured Videos

From Our Partners

Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf

BLUE JACKETS vs DUCKS Watch Live Stream Online & Listen: NHL Live Coverage from ANAHEIM

Tonight at 10 p.m. ET, the Columbus Blue Jackets (4-2-0, eight points) and Anaheim Ducks (6-1-0, 12 points) skate against each other for the first of two meetings this season live from the Honda Center in Anaheim. The game can be live streamed here. Columbus fans can hear all of the action on Sports Radio 97.1 while Anaheim fans can do the same on KLAA 830.

Semyon Varlamov

CANUCKS vs AVALANCHE Watch Live Stream Online & Listen: NHL Live Coverage from COLORADO

Tonight at 9 p.m. ET, the Vancouver Canucks (4-2-0, eight points) and Colorado Avalanche (1-4-2, four points) take the ice at the Pepsi Center in Colorado for the first of three meetings against each other this season. The game can be live streamed here. Vancouver fans can hear all of the action on TEAM 1040 while Colorado fans can do the same on WKRZ 950.

Chelsea Houska and Aubree

Chelsea Houska Boyfriend: Adam Lind Claims 'Teen Mom 2' Star Still Texts Him [VIDEO]

In a Teen Mom 2 deleted scene, Adam Lind claimed Chelsea still contacts him to hook up.

Leah and Jeremy Calvert

Leah Calvert News: 'Teen Mom 2' Star's Husband Jeremy May Be Moving Out [VIDEO]

Jeremy Calvert appears to be done with his marriage to Leah Calvert.

Microsoft

Microsoft Lumia Phones Will Officially Drop Nokia Name, First Branding Images Released

Microsoft is officially dropping the Nokia name from the Lumia line of devices, showing off the first glimpse of the Microsoft Lumia brand today.

Marcus Mariota

Oregon vs. California Watch FREE Live Stream Online & Listen NCAA Football 2014 Week 9 [ODDS]

The No. 6 Oregon Ducks look for another Pac-12 win against the California Golden Bears on Friday Night Football in Week 9.

Saw

Saw Returns To Theaters Halloween For Limited 10th Anniversary Re-Release: Is Saw 8 Coming 2015?

The iconic horror series of the 2000s is coming back next week for a limited, week long engagement across the nation in honor of its 10th anniversary. Might we also hear any more news about the long rumored Saw VIII?

Tori Spelling

Tori Spelling Hospitalized: 'True Tori' Says There's One Person Who Wouldn't Be There For Her [VIDEO]

Tori Spelling is in the hospital, and sharing mysterious tweets with fans.

Real Time Analytics