On May 26, 1940, Levon Helm, drummer and vocalist for The Band was born in Elaine, Arkansas.
Helm was known for his raw, unique voice and soulful, creative drumming style. The Band made a name for themselves first as rockabilly legend Ronnie Hawkins’ backup band, the Hawks, then when backing Bob Dylan for his US and world tours in 1965-1966.
When not drumming and singing, Helm also moonlighted as an actor, appearing in The Right Stuff, Shooter, and as Loretta Lynn’s father in Coal Miner’s Daughter, to list a few examples.
Helm’s drumming has frequently been praised for its musicality, jazzy snare rolls, and indelible time-keeping. Perhaps critic Jon Carroll put it best when he said Helm was “the only drummer who can make you cry.”
In 1998, Helm began a battle with throat cancer, in which he lost the use of his voice. But that didn’t stop him, and after 10 years, Helm came back strong with Dirt Farmer, which won him a Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Album. Then, in 2010, his followup Electric Dirt was the first to win a Grammy in the newly created Best Americana Album. And in 2011, he won again with Ramble At The Ryman.
Helm died the following year, in 2012, from cancer. Celebrate his legacy and swinging, good-time feel with the following songs, including “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” above, from the 1978 film The Last Waltz.