Dead, Mark Lavon “Levon” Helm on April 19, 2012, he was an American rock ‘n’ roller, Americana musician and actor who achieved fame as the drummer and regular lead vocalist for The Band. Born in Elaine, Arkansas on May 26, 1940, Helm grew up in Turkey Scratch, Arkansas, a hamlet west of Helena, Arkansas.
His parents, Nell and Diamond Helm, cotton farmers and also great lovers of music, encouraged their children to play and sing.
Young Lavon (as he was christened) began playing the guitar at the age of eight and also played drums during his formative years.
Helm was diagnosed with throat cancer, which caused him to lose his singing voice in 1998.
His 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 No. 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 Grammy Award for Best Americana Album, a category inaugurated in 2010.
In 2011, his live album Ramble at the Ryman won the Grammy in the same category.
After graduating from high school, Helm was invited to join Ronnie Hawkins’s band, The Hawks, a popular Southern bar and club act which also had success in Canada, where rockabilly acts were very popular.
Soon after, Helm joined The Hawks, and they moved to Toronto, Canada, where, in 1959, they signed with Roulette Records and released several singles, including a few hits.
By the mid-1960s, songwriter and musician Bob Dylan was interested in performing electric rock music and asked the Hawks to be his backing band.
Disheartened by fans’ negative response to Dylan’s new sound, Helm returned to Arkansas for what turned out to be a two-year layoff, being replaced by drummer Mickey Jones.
With the completion of Dylan’s world tour, which included the other four members of the Hawks, Helm went back to Arkansas – to home, to the “woodshed”, as he called it, to consider his options.
Natural progression led Levon to form his own rock band as a high school junior, called The Jungle Bush Beaters.
While Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis were making teens everywhere crazed, Levon would practice, play, watch and learn.
After seeing Jerry Lee’s drummer Jimmy Van Eaton, he seriously began thinking of playing the drums himself.
Around this same time, the seventeen year old musician was invited by Conway Twitty to share the stage with Twitty and his Rock Housers.
He had met Twitty when “Lavon and Linda” opened for him at a previous show.
Helm was a personable, polite teen who took his music seriously, so Twitty allowed him to sit in whenever the opportunity arose.
During the 90’s three more Band albums were recorded. Jericho, High on the Hog, ending with Jubilation.
In 1998, Levon was diagnosed with throat cancer and the famous voice with the rich southern nuances was silenced to a whisper.
He still played the drums, mandolin and harmonica, often performing with his daughter, Amy Helm, also a vocalist and instrumentalist.
A great emotional support to her father during this time, Amy appeared with him regularly at Levon Helm Studios.
In 1999, Helm endured another tragic loss when Rick Danko passed away nineteen days before his fifty sixth birthday. His death marked the end of an era.