On This Day, April 19, 2012: Levon Helm died at age 71

On This Day, April 19, 2012…

Levon Helm, best known as the drummer, singer and multi-instrumentalist for The Band, died at age 71 of throat cancer. 

As one of The Band’s three main vocalists, Helm was featured on many of their classic tracks, including “The Weight,” “Up on Cripple Creek” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”

Along with the other members of The Band, Helm was initially a member of The Hawks, the backing band for rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins. After they split with Hawkins in 1963 over creative differences, they were known briefly as Levon & The HawksBob Dylan then hired the group as his backing band, but Helm, discouraged by fans’ negative reaction to Dylan’s new “electric” music, left. He returned in 1967; The Band’s debut album, Music from Big Pink, came out in 1968.

Helm remained with the The Band through their farewell performance on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1976. The performance was filmed by Martin Scorsese and released as the critically acclaimed documentary The Last Waltz.

In 1983, Helm and The Band reformed without guitarist Robbie Robertson and continued to tour and record.  After singer/pianist Richard Manuel died by suicide in 1986, The Band carried on with various other musicians until bassist/vocalist Rick Danko‘s death in 1999.

Helm continued to record and play live until his death, winning multiple Grammys for his solo albums.

In addition to music, Helm dabbled in acting and appeared in movies like Coal Miner’s DaughterThe Right StuffFeeling Minnesota and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.

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