March 05, 2015 | Updated at 02:50 PM EST 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."

© 2015 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

Natalie Guercio

Natalie Guercio Slams Natalie Didonato After Releasing Audio Tape On 'Mob Wives'

Natalie Guercio is furious after her sworn enemy Natalie Didonato released some audio as proof that Guercio lied about being a 'rat' and calling the police on her ex-boyfriend.

The battle between Michael and Sonny for Avery takes a surprising turn on the March 4, 2015 episode of 'General Hospital'

Michael & Sonny's Battle For Avery Takes A Surprising Twist On 'General Hospital'

The case to win custody of baby Avery is only heating up more on General Hospital, especially after Michael (Chad Duell) pulls out a sneaky move to ensure things will go his way.

The Young and the Restless

Summer Spirals On 'Young And The Restless' Over News Of Austin's Affair

Austin Travers’ (Matthew Atkinson) memorial service took a shocking turn during Wednesday’s episode when memories from the Abbott cabin flooded Summer Newman Travers’ (Hunter King) mind, which has led to her unraveling.

Matthew Atkinson

Matthew Atkinson Talks Austin's Storyline On 'Young and the Restless'

'The Young and the Restless' appears to have lost a Genoa City resident to death, but that might not actually be the case.

Stalker

Viewers Beg CBS Not To Cancel 'Stalker' On Twitter

After the winter finale of CBS hit show 'Stalker,' fans took to Twitter to beg the channel not to cancel the series.

Mob Wives

Karen Gravano & Natalie Didonato Team Up Against Nat G.

The drama continues and the ladies on VH1's 'Mob Wives' are ready for war.

Stalker

Viewers Beg CBS Not To Cancel 'Stalker' On Twitter

After the winter finale of CBS hit show 'Stalker,' fans took to Twitter to beg the channel not to cancel the series.

Patrick Schwarzenegger and Miley Cyrus

Are Miley Cyrus & Patrick Schwarzenegger's Sex Lives Heating Up?

Miley Cyrus and Patrick Schwarzenegger have not been dating for that long, but the couple apparently is getting extra hot behind closed doors.

Mob Wives Reality Star Natalie Guercio

'Mob Wives' Natalie Didonato Proves That Natalie Guercio Is A Liar?

Things between Natalie Guercio and her cast mates are heating up and it looks like there's officially proof that the reality star may be the one spilling everyone's secrets. I

Witches Of East End

'Witches Of East End' Stars Thank Fans For 'Raising Their Voices'

The dedication from fans on bringing 'Witches of East End' back for a renewal is gaining attention from big publications as well as the series' former stars.

Witches Of East End cast

Blog Post Gives Details On How Fans Can Save 'Witches Of East End'

If fans want to see a third season of 'Witches of East End,' perhaps they might be able to make some real magic happen.

Matthew Atkinson

Matthew Atkinson Talks Austin's Storyline On 'Young and the Restless'

'The Young and the Restless' appears to have lost a Genoa City resident to death, but that might not actually be the case.

Jhonni Blaze

'LHHNY' Jhonni Blaze & 'Smutty Thot Pocket' Moniece Slaughter Beef Over Rich Dollaz

Johnni Blaze's love for her Love & Hip Hop New York co-star Rich Dollaz has ended in an all out social media battle with his rumored girlfriend Moniece Slaughter of Love & Hip Hop Hollywood.

Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan

Production For 'Fifty Shades Darker' Should Begin Soon

The new film 'Fifty Shades of Grey' has become a global phenomenon and the multi million-dollar franchise is continuing to grow.

Latest News

Jodi Arias

Jodi Arias Gets Sentenced To Life In Prison, Jury Could Not Reach Unanimous Decision

The Jodi Arias retrial began in October of last year and has officially wrapped Thursday resulting in yet another mistrial since jurors could not reach a unanimous verdict.

Rihanna

Reps For Leonardo DiCaprio Set The Records Straight About Alleged Relationship With Rihanna

New details surrounding Rihanna and her new rumored boyfriend Leonardo DiCaprio are emerging, and it looks like the duo are just friends.

Tempest Dujour

'RuPaul' Contestant Tempest Dujour Opens Up On Elimination, 'I Gave It My All'

'RuPaul's Drag Race' waved good-bye to Tempest Dujour on Monday night where she had plenty to say about her elimination.

Camila Cabello & Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift Throws Fifth Harmony's Camila Cabello A Birthday Party

Fifth Harmony’s Camila Cabello celebrated her 18th birthday with some celebrity pals, including Taylor Swift who threw her a party.

Harry Hamlin & Lisa Rinna

Harry Hamlin Speaks Out About Kim Richards' Attack On Lisa Rinna

Harry Hamlin has taken to Twitter to address the recent drama on 'The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.'

Banshee

Is Job's Identity About To Be Revealed On 'Banshee?'

Job might be in a loop of trouble on the next episode of 'Banshee.'

Jane Lynch

Jane Lynch Talks 'Heavy' 'Glee' Finale & Reveals Favorite Sue Moment

'Glee' star Jane Lynch recently spoke about filming the final episode of the Fox series and her favorite scene from the whole series.

Kerry Washington

Kerry Washington Anxiously Awaits New 'Scandal' Episode

Like many fans around the world, Kerry Washington is anxiously anticipating the return of a new 'Scandal' episode and while she hasn't seen it yet, she says she already has butterflies.

Kerry Washington

Olivia Pope Forced To Handle New 'Scandal' D.C. Crisis After Being Held Captive

T.G.I.T. returns with a new episode of 'Scandal' and Olivia Pope is handling a new case after returning to D.C. since she was help captive.

Amish Mafia

Could There Be Big News About The Future Of 'Amish Mafia?'

Fans of Amish Mafia were delighted to find out the show would be back for a fourth season and devastated when they learned it would be the last-but some surprises could be in store for the show's devoted followers.

Featured Videos

From Our Partners

Nikki Bella

AJ Lee WWE Rumors: Nikki Bella Responds To Divas Tweets At Stephanie McMahon and More [VIDEO]

WWE Divas Champion Nikki Bella addressed AJ Lee's tweets toward Stephanie McMahon, the Divas division and more.

Batman Suite

Batman Hotel Room In Taiwan Allows You To Stay In The ‘Batcave’ For A Few Hours

Spending your night like Batman actually sounds kind of terrible. Staying outside, fighting off thugs and villains? No thank you. Spending the night in a Batman-themed room sounds amazing though. One hotel in Taiwan can make that dream come true.

Dez Bryant

Dez Bryant Video Rumors: Coast Clear For WR? Still No Sign Of Alleged Tape

The allegedly incriminating video of Dez Bryant still hasn't surfaced. Was there ever anything to worry about?

All Men Must Die Promo Game of Thrones

Game Of Thrones Season 5 News And Spoilers: A Death Takes Even Cast By Surprise

We've been warned multiple times that there will be surprising deaths in the coming season of Game of Thrones. The deaths shouldn't be a surprise to the actors however. One actor who bites the dust this season had no idea his head was on the chopping block.

GTA Online

Grand Theft Auto 5 Online Heists: Video Shows Off The Humane Labs Raid, More Game Modes Also Coming In Next Update

Few in-game features have been as long-awaited as Grand Theft Auto V's Online Heists, and they're finally almost here.

Juventus

Juventus vs. Fiorentina Live Stream Free Online: Coppa Italia Semifinals, Projected Lineups and Tactical Preview

Two clubs chasing the Coppa Italia will do battle today in a cup match between Juventus and Fiorentina. The quarterfinal clash scheduled for 2:45 p.m. ET will be held at Juventus Stadium in Turin and can be live streamed here free. Additional TV coverage can be found on beIN Sports.

Logitech G303

Logitech G303 Daedalus Apex Gaming Mouse Announced: Boasts 12,000 DPI Sensor, RGB Lighting [VIDEO]

Designed for and tested by the gaming community, Logitech's new G303 Daedalus Apex gaming mouse promises a precise, lightweight build that will make you a better gamer.

Jameis Winston

NFL Draft 2015 Rumors: Jameis Winston Would Love To Play In Florida [VIDEO]

Jameis Winston might be dropping hints about which team he wants to draft him.

Protocol Zero

Samsung Gear VR Stealth Action Title 'Protocol Zero' Launches Via New Oculus Store

After a successful demo launch back in January, DeNA has officially released their first person stealth title Protocol Zero for the Samsung Gear VR Innovator Edition.

ScreamRide

ScreamRide Review Roundup: Is The Xbox Roller Coaster Creation Game A Surprise Hit?

Some games are highly-anticipated big budget titles, and others get a bit less press. ScreamRide probably falls into that second category, bringing roller coaster creation and simulated rides to console with mostly positive reception. If you're interested, or perhaps hadn't heard of the title before, here's what reviews around the web have to say.

Real Time Analytics