Levon Helm decided he would become a musician when he was six years old after catching a Bill Monroe bluegrass show. Today, he died a legend. Levon was known mostly as the drummer of The Band, a band that first gained major exposure by playing backup for Bob Dylan, then became a force in its own right with two seminal ’60s country-rock albums (Music from Big Pink and The Band). But Levan also used his twangy southern tenor to double at times as a lead singer, and periodically played mandolin, guitar and bass.
Levon had battled throat cancer since the late ’90s, but the seriousness of his current condition was only made public earlier this week when his daughter and wife posted a message to his website saying that he was in the “final stages of his battle with cancer” and to “please send your prayers and love to him as he makes his way through this part of his journey.”
Levon and The Band were immortalized on screen by Martin Scorsese, who made the documentary The Last Waltz, about The Band’s final concert in 1976 (although they recommenced touring in the ’80s). The legendary concert featured heavyweights like Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Muddy Waters, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison and Eric Clapton. Levon and members of The Band also played with Ringo Starr, Pink Floyd, and the Grateful Dead.
Despite claiming that his voice had recovered only 80 percent from chemo, Levon won Grammy awards for two solo albums — the Dirt Farmer in 2007 and Electric Dirt in 2010. In addition to music, he’ll be remembered through an acting career that included portraying Loretta Lynn‘s father in Coal Miner’s Daughter.
VH1 Classic will be airing The Last Waltz tomorrow night, Friday, April 20, at 9 p.m. ET/PT.