Levon Helm lost his battle with cancer on Thursday past. He was a unique player on the rock, country, and folk landscape. Helm achieved fame as the drummer and frequent lead and backing vocalist for The Band. His soulful voice was cultivated in the cotton fields of Arkansas, a stones throw from the Mississippi River.
Helm played with many of the rock and roll, and country greats throughout the years but he is most noted for his vocals on many of the Band’s recordings, such as “The Weight“, “Up on Cripple Creek“, “Ophelia” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down“.
In the late 90s, Helm was diagnosed with throat cancer causing severe hoarseness and was advised to undergo a laryngectomy. Instead, Helm opted for a tedious regimen of radiation treatments at Memorial Sloan–Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. The tumor was successfully removed but Helm’s vocal cords were damaged. His powerful tenor voice was replaced by a quiet rasp.
Helm’s 2007 comeback album Dirt Farmer earned the Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album in February 2008, and in November of that year, Rolling Stone magazine ranked him #91 in the list of The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time. In 2010, Electric Dirt, his 2009 follow-up to Dirt Farmer, won the first ever Grammy Award for Best Americana Album, an inaugural category in 2010. In 2011, his live album Ramble at the Ryman was nominated for the Grammy in the same category and won.
Besides being a notable singer and drummer, Helm found his way to Hollywood and was cast in many standout feature films.
1. Coal Miner’s Daughter – Ted Webb, Loretta Lynn’s father
2. The Right Stuff – Jack Ridley, Chuck Yeagar’s friend and Flight engineer.
3. The Fire Down Below – Reverend Bob Goodall (w/Steven Seagal)
4. In the Electric Mist – General John Bell Hood (in dream sequence)
Helm’s narration and performance in The Right Stuff.
On April 17, 2012, his wife and daughter announced on Helm’s website that he was “in the final stages of his battle with cancer” and thanked fans while requesting prayers. Two days later, Helm died at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.