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Martin Scorsese Calls Levon Helm ‘a Consummate Artist’

“The Last Waltz” director reflect on filming the late drummer of The Band singing “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”

Martin Scorsese paid tribute to Levon Helm on Friday, calling the late drummer for The Band, "a consummate artist."

Helm died Thursday at the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, after battling throat cancer. He was 71.

The Band created such seminal rock albums as "Music From Big Pink," and Scorsese helped burnish the group's musical legacy with his groundbreaking 1978 concert film, "The Last Waltz." 

Also read: Levon Helm, Drummer for The Band, Dies at 71

The documentary captured the final concert of the group's touring career at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. It featured Helm singing lead vocals on songs like "The Weight" and "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." 

"Levon's touch was so delicate, so deft, that he gave you more than just a beat – he gave the music a pulse," Scorsese said in a statement. "And his high, ringing voice was just as soulful. His bandmate Robbie Robertson wrote 'The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down' for Levon to sing, and I'll never forget how moving it was to watch him sing it during their final performance at Winterland, which is one of the high points of the movie we made from that show, 'The Last Waltz.'"

In addition to his musical talents, Scorsese praised Helm's character, and his acting in films like "Coal Miner's Daughter" (1980) and "The Right Stuff" (1983).

"Levon was a gentleman, a consummate artist (and, I might add, a wonderful actor — his performance as Loretta Lynn's father in 'Coal Miner's Daughter' is rich, understated, and very moving), and he loved music as deeply and truly as anyone I've ever met," Scorsese said. "I consider myself fortunate to have worked with Levon, and I am one among many, many people who will miss him."

After The Band's break-up, Helm remained active until poor health forced him to cancel a string of performances that had been scheduled for early this month.

As a solo artist, he won the Best Americana Album at the 2012 Grammys for his album "Ramble at the Ryman." He also won a Grammy in 2007 for his album "Dirt Farmer."

Here's  "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," as captured by Scorsese: