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Levon Helm, drummer and singer of ‘The Band’ has died at the age of 71. After a battle with cancer, he passed away on April 19 at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. Larry Campbell, Helm’s guitarist, told Rolling Stone magazine about the death. “He passed away peacefully at 1:30 this afternoon surrounded by his friends and bandmates. All his friends were there, and it seemed like Levon was waiting for them. Ten minutes after they left we sat there and he just faded away. He did it with dignity. It was even two days ago they thought it would happen within hours, but he held on. It seems like he was Levon up to the end, doing it the way he wanted to do it. He loved us, we loved him.”
Two days before Helm’s passing, the family wrote to fans of the legendary drummer, asking for their love and prayers; “Levon is in the final stages of his battle with cancer,” the message read. “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.”
An extremely talented multi-instrumentalist, Helm started to perform musically early in his life. After learning to play guitar and drums as a kid, he became the co-founder of ‘The Band’, becoming one of the first singing drummers in rock history. The Band’s original line-up featured Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel, Robbie Robertson, and of course Levon Helm. They toured throughout Canada and The U.S., but ‘The Band’ reached their big notoriety for playing with Bob Dylan in the ‘60s, becoming one of the most influential roots rock bands after that. When The Band split up, first in 1976 and then in 1999, Helm went on with his own music, as well as occasional movies appearances, and he also won the first ever Grammy Award for Best Americana Album in 2010, for his album ‘Electric Dirt’.
After his death, several artists expressed their continuous love for Helm and grief of his passing; Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers wrote on Twitter “Wow, Levon helm, let in on the big secret. Thanks to him for letting us in on the beauty of his earthling journey mystery. RIP. LOVEALWAYS;” Adam Levine wrote ‘Levon Helm. He was THE BEST. Music is gonna miss him. One of the humble gods of rock and roll. Rest in Peace,” and Billy Bragg “The greatest singing drummer that ever lived has fallen silent. RIP Levon Helm of The Band.”
A message by Bob Dylan, an old friend of Helm, was published on his website. It read “He was my bosom buddy friend to the end, one of the last true great spirits of my or any other generation. This is just so sad to talk about. I still can remember the first day I met him and the last day I saw him. We go back pretty far and had been through some trials together. I’m going to miss him, as I’m sure a whole lot of others will too.”
Image Courtesey of WFUV