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Levon Helm, former drummer for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame group, The Band, died Thursday, April 19th, after a long-running battle with cancer; he was 71.

Mark Lavon Helm (aka Levon Helm), born on May 26, 1940 in Marvell, Arkansas, grew up in a musical home where all the children were encouraged to play and sing. He started playing guitar at the age of 8 and added the drums into the mix soon after.

Helm was plucked up by rocker, Ronnie Hawkins, to join his band in 1957. During this time Hawkins united with four other musicians who would later go on to become the core of The Band: Richard Manuel, Rick Danko, Robbie Robertson and Garth Hudson. The group of musicians eventually split with Hawkins and in 1965, connected with Bob Dylan to help the then folk icon transition into an electric sound.

The Band went on to release a string of rock classics and broke up in 1976 after an all-star Thanksgiving concert at the Winterland ballroom in San Francisco. Martin Scorsese had filmed the concert and released it as "The Last Waltz."

Levon Helm not only played drums for The Band, but shared background and lead vocal duties as well. It was Helm's signature Southern drawl that helped make iconic songs such as "The Weight," "Up on Cripple Creek" and "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" rock classics.

Levon Helm

In 1998, Helm was diagnosed with throat cancer. He struggled to regain his voice and pay spiraling medical bills. Although he initially lost his ability to sing, Helm continued to play drums, mandolin and harmonica alongside his daughter Amy, performing in a series of shows at his Woodstock, New York, studios called the Midnight Ramble. Since 2004, the shows have grown in legend, attracting everyone from Elvis Costello and Norah Jones to My Morning Jacket, Steve Earle and Emmylou Harris. The weekly concerts attracted sold-out audiences that not only helped pay the bills, but also kick-started Helm's recording career and produced the back-to-back Grammy-winning albums Dirt Farmer (2007) and Electric Dirt (2009).

In 2008, Helm gave a concert at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee, which was recorded and later released (2011) as the live album, Ramble on the Ryman, which earned him a Grammy Award for "Best Americana Album."

On April 17, 2012, Helm's wife, Sandy, and daughter, Amy, posted the following on 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...

Levon Helm passed away peacefully Thursday afternoon, April 19th, at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan, NY. Levon was surrounded by family, friends and band mates, and will be remembered by all that he touched as a brilliant musician and a beautiful soul.