WOODSTOCK, N.Y. — Levon Helm, a former member of The Band, has died after a long battle with cancer.
Helm died Friday afternoon in a New York hospital, his band leader Larry Campbell told the Times-Herald Record.
Photos: Remembering Levon Helm
A message posted Thursday on the 71-year-old musician's website by his family said "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."
Helm, a key member of the seminal rock group The Band who lent his distinctively Southern voice to classics like "The Weight" and "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down."
Helm and his Band mates were musical virtuosos who mined the roots of American music in the late 1960s as other rockers veered into psychedelia and jams. The group's 1968 debut, "Music From the Big Pink," remains a landmark album of the era.
The Band started out as the backing group for Ronnie Hawkins, when they toured as The Hawks, before becoming Bob Dylan's backing group as he went electric in 1965.
The Band bid farewell to live performances with a bang with its famous "Last Waltz" concert in 1976. Some fans considered Richard Manuel The Band's lead singer. But for many admirers, that honor belonged to the short, feisty Helm.
While Helm's illness reduced his voice to something close to a whisper, it did not end his musical career. Beset by debt, in 2004 he began a series of free-wheeling late night shows in his barn in Woodstock that were patterned after medicine shows from his youth.
Any night of the bi-weekly Midnight Rambles could feature Gillian Welch, Elvis Costello or his daughter Amy on vocals and violin. He recorded "Dirt Farmer" in 2007, which was followed by "Electric Dirt" in 2009. Both albums won Grammys. He won another this year for "Ramble at the Ryman."
Original members of The Band were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.