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Levon Helm, key member of ‘The Band,’ dead at 71

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Levon Helm, right, on "Imus in the Morning" on Fox Business Channel (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

ALBANY, N.Y. — Levon Helm, The Band’s commanding drummer and singer whose solid beat and Arkansas twang helped define classics from the tragic “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” to the playful “Up on Cripple Creek,” died Thursday. He was 71.

Helm, who was found to have throat cancer in 1998, died peacefully Thursday afternoon, according to his website. On Tuesday, a message on the site said he was in the final stages of cancer.

Helm and his band mates, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, Robbie Robertson and Richard Manuel, were musical virtuosos who returned to the roots of American music in the late 1960s as other rockers veered into psychedelia, heavy metal and jams.

The group’s 1968 debut, “Music From the Big Pink,” and its follow-up, “The Band,” remain landmark albums of the era, and songs such as “The Weight,” “Dixie Down” and “Cripple Creek” have become rock standards.

Levon 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,” has died at age 71.

Helm’s website said he died peacefully Thursday afternoon.

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, heavy metal and jams. The group’s 1968 debut, “Music From the Big Pink,” remains a landmark album of the era.

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.

Source: Michael Hill, Associated Press