Grammy Award-winning musician and Woodstock, NY resident, Levon Helm, has died. He was 71, just 37 days shy of his 72nd birthday.
Helm, a familiar face in Ulster County — and renowned champion of local music — passed away at his Woodstock, NY home after a two decades-long battle with throat cancer. He is survived by his wife, Sandy Helm, and daughter Amy Helm, who regularly performed with him as a member of The Levon Helm Band.
Helm’s nearly 66-year music career began in his home state of Arkansas at the age of six, after an inspiring performance by Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys. A multi-instrumentalist and vocalist, Helm played drums, mandolin, banjo, harmonica, bass, and guitar; his musical style ranged from rock and roll and blues to country and folk music.
He was perhaps best-known as the drummer and vocalist for The Band, producing rock hits such as “The Weight,” “Ophelia,” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” His illustrious career was highlighted by three Grammy Awards wins for Best Traditional Folk Album in 2008 (for Dirt Farmer, 2007); and Best Americana Album in 2010 (for Electric Dirt, 2009) and in 2012 (for Ramble at the Ryman, 2011), respectively. In addition, Helm maintained a large presence on the festival circuit, headlining the Bonnaroo Music Festival in 2008; as well as Warren Haynes’ Mountain Jam Music Festival at Hunter Mountain, NY in both 2008 and 2010 (where Haynes and other notable musicians presented Helm with a barn-shaped cake onstage to honor his 70th birthday).
Helm was also known for his late-night (and sold-out) Midnight Ramble concerts, which were held in his Woodstock barn and featured a variety of distinguished guests including Elvis Costello, Donald Fagen, Emmylou Harris, Garth Hudson, Dr. John, Norah Jones, Rickie Lee Jones, Kris Kristofferson, Phil Lesh, David Rawlings, Chris Robinson, and Gillian Welch. The shows were open to the public.
Helm’s relapse with cancer was announced by his family on Tuesday, April 17, 2012 on his Web site, www.levonhelm.com:
Levon is in the final stages of his battle with cancer. 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…
We appreciate all the love and support and concern.
From his daughter Amy, and wife Sandy”
At approximately 3 p.m. on Thursday, April 19, 2012, the following message was posted to www.levonhelm.com announcing the music legend’s death:
“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.”