The Band’s Levon Helm’s Final Song

Levon Helm, drummer of the legendary roots rock band, The Band, is in “the final stages” of throat cancer. The announcement by family members on his website asks fans to:

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… and love to him as he makes his way through this part of his journey.

After graduating from high school, Helm was invited to join Ronnie Hawkins‘ band, “The Hawks.” In the early 1960s Helm and Hawkins recruited an all-Canadian lineup of musicians: guitarist Robbie Robertson, bassist Rick Danko, pianist Richard Manuel and organist Garth Hudson. They were later invited to be the backup band for singer/songwriter Bob Dylan, and their name was changed to The Band.

Except for a 2 year hiatus in the mid-60’s, Helm remained with “The Band” until their 1976 farewell performance, The Last Waltz, which was recorded in a documentary film by director Martin Scorsese.

In the late 1990s, Helm was suffered from hoarseness, and was ultimately diagnosed with throat cancer. Although he was advised to undergo a laryngectomy (removal of the voice box), Helm instead opted for a difficult regimen of radiation treatments at Memorial Sloan–Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

Although the tumor was then successfully removed, Helm’s vocal cords were damaged, and his once powerful voice was replaced by a quiet rasp.

But Helm had been hosting what he called The Midnight Rambles (based on the concept of rural traveling music shows) at his home, “The Barn” in Woodstock,NY. These were open to the public.

With the loss of his singing voice, Helm initially only played drums and relied on guest vocalists at the Rambles, but over time, Helm’s singing voice grew stronger.

In addition, the concerts allowed Helm to raise money for his medical bills and to resume what he loved to do the most- perform.

We’ve done a number of stories about throat cancer. Here are a just a few:

Michael Douglas Diagnosed with throat cancer– General information about throat cancer

UPDATE: More details on Michael Douglas’ diagnosisInformation about staging of throat cancer

Michael Douglas: The Tumor is Gone: Information about a common side effect of throat cancer treatment

Nick Ashford and Throat Cancer: What you need to know.

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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