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R.I.P. Levon Helm (1940-2012)

Levon Helm at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in 2010 || Photo by Times-Picayune

Levon Helm passed peacefully this afternoon. 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.

Message from

The Times Herald Record (via Spinner) reports that Levon Helm, Arkansas farmer, father and best-known as the the drummer/vocalist for The Band, has died after a long battle with throat cancer. He was 71. Levon’s camp had formally announced on Monday that Helm was going to be too sick to perform at Jazz Fest, and rumors about his poor health were affirmed on the drummer’s web site the following day when his family announced that his final days were drawing near. An outpouring of global support from artists, friends, a U.S. President (fellow Arkansan Bill Clinton) and his legions of fans wrote messages of remembrance to celebrate the drummer’s music and eternal legacy. Helm is remembered by many as representing the heart and soul of The Band.

The iconic pillar of American roots music’s gritty, organic voice couldn’t be silenced–even after his first bout with throat cancer at the beginning of the decade. Helm recovered brilliantly to record and release his stellar GRAMMY-winning 2007 album Dirt Farmer, which received honors for “Best Traditional Folk Album” and spawned a follow-up Electric Dirt, which received a GRAMMY for Best Americana Album. Levon’s life ended on a high note, having inspired the next generation of artists like Mumford & Sons, My Morning Jacket and The Felice Brothers to carry on his legacy for years to come.

Helm was scheduled to perform a headlining set in the Blues Tent on Saturday, May 5 at this year’s New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, alongside the legendary Mavis Staples, with whom he famously sang “The Weight” in Martin Scorcese’s epochal concert film The Last Waltz. With Warren Haynes Band filling the vacant slot and Staples still slated to make an appearance in the Gospel Tent, there is no question that Helm’s presence will be strongly felt at this year’s event and one can probably bet that “The Weight” and “I Shall Be Released” will ring out across the Fair Grounds at some point over the two weekends. When it does, it will be a moment you’ll never forget. Helm’s final appearance in New Orleans was at Jazz Fest 2010 (see below).

Long live Levon!

Wesley Hodges writes about music for Live Music Blog; NOLA and for NolaVie.


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