UNITED STATES - JANUARY 01:  Photo of BAND; Levon Helm performing live onstage, singing and playing drums  (Photo by Richard
Richard E. Aaron

Levon Helm, drummer and singer for The Band, died today (April 19) at the age of 71. His website released the following statement:

"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's longtime guitarist Larry Campbell shared the sad details with Rolling Stone. "He passed away peacefully at 1:30 this afternoon surrounded by his friends and bandmates. All his friends were there, and it seemed like Levon was waiting for them. Ten minutes after they left we sat there and he just faded away. He did it with dignity. It was even two days ago they thought it would happen within hours, but he held on. It seems like he was Levon up to the end, doing it the way he wanted to do it. He loved us, we loved him."

Earlier this week, Helm's family announced Levon was "in the final stages of his battle with cancer." The 71-year-old multi-instrumentalist was diagnosed with cancer in 1998 and had fought it off-and-on since then.

Former bandmate Robbie Robertson visited Helm in the hospital last Sunday. "It really hit me hard because I thought he had beaten throat cancer," Robertson said. "I am so grateful I got to see him one last time and I will miss him and love him forever."

Aside from drumming for The Band—the most important and influential group in the genre of Americana/roots rock—Helm sang two of their best-known songs. He provided lilting, soulful vocals for "The Weight" on Music From Big Pink and delivered a buoyant, country-inflected performance for "Up on Cripple Creek." 

When The Band was still known as The Hawks, they backed up Bob Dylan during his controversial transition to rock music. Their sessions with Dylan made up the legendary Basement Tapes and their farewell concert was immortalized in Martin Scorsese's 1976 rock doc The Last Waltz, although they reformed for several tours later on.

In spite of his battle with throat cancer, Helm continued performing until recently. He put together what he called "The Midnight Ramble" in the 2000s, a series of open-to-the-public concerts at his barn/home/studio in Woodstock, NY. Those modern hoedowns attracted guest musicians from Elvis Costello to Norah Jones to former Band bandmate Garth Hudson.

Listen to the immortal "The Weight" below and check out photos of Levon Helm throughout the years.