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Dedicated to Levon Helm of "The Band"

Levon Helm, the singer and drummer with The Band, is dead of cancer at age 71.

  • Mark Levon Helm was born in Elaine, Arkansas in 1940 and grew up listening to country and Delta Blues.
  • He joined Ronnie Hawkins in The Hawks in 1957.
  • The Band backed Bob Dylan before striking out on their own in 1968 with Music From Big Pink.
  • Helm starred in such movies as Coal Miner's Daughter and The Right Stuff.
  • Cancer treatments kept him from performing between 1996 and 2004, but since that time he'd experienced a career renaissance and even won three Grammys since 2008.
  • He leaves behind wife Sandy and daughter Amy.

On Tuesday, Helm's daughter Amy and wife Sandy posted the following on his website: "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." Helm, the voice of such Band classics as "The Weight," "Up on Cripple Creek" and "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," has had numerous health issues since being diagnosed with throat cancer in 1996.

The only American member of The Band -- the other four were Canadian -- Mark Levon Helm was born in Elaine, Arkansas on May 26th, 1940 and grew up to the sounds of the Grand Ole Opry and Sonny Boy Williamson and His King Biscuit Entertainers on the radio. Steeped in the Delta Blues, Levon got his first guitar at age nine and took up the drums at 14. When he was 12, he and his sister Linda would perform as Levon and Linda, winning numerous talent contests along the Arkansas 4-H Club circuit.

In 1957 Levon met Ronnie Hawkins and joined his band, The Hawks, as its drummer. Hawkins eventually recruited Robbie Robertson, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel and Rick Danko, laying the foundation for one of the era's best groups. In the mid-'60s The Hawks left Hawkins and hooked up with Bob Dylan to become his first electric band, but Levon couldn't take the booing from the folk purists who objected to Dylan going electric. and he left shortly there afterwards.

The Band, as they would come to be known, eventually joined Dylan in Woodstock, New York, and Levon made the trip there in 1967. In 1968 they recorded and released their debut album, Music From Big Pink, and followed that up with six studio albums before calling it quits in 1976 with an all-star concert in San Francisco that was dubbed The Last Waltz.

Following the demise of The Band, Levon formed his own group, The RCO All-Stars, in 1977; played with other artists; and went into acting, picking up roles in such notable films as Coal Miner's Daughter and The Right Stuff before re-forming The Band, minus Robertson, in 1983. Richard Manuel took his own life on the road in 1986, but The Band soldiered on and off until the death of Rick Danko in 1999. Levon was also in Ringo Starr's first All-Starr Band in 1989 along with Danko.

In 1996 Levon was diagnosed with throat cancer and underwent 28 radiation treatments before being able to sing again in 2004. Since that time he'd had a renaissance -- performing with his daughter Amy, staging his Midnight Ramble shows at his home studio in Woodstock, New York, narrating TV shows and movies, and winning three Grammy Awards since 2008.

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04/17/2012 11:53AM
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