The Loss of Two Iconic Figures

Dave Iannacone

Last week, the music industry suffered the losses of two very iconic and beloved members. On Wednesday April 18, legendary television personality Dick Clark passed away after suffering a heart attack following surgery at the age of 82. The next day, on April 19, musician Levon Helm, most famous for drumming and singing in The Band, passed away after losing his battle with cancer. He was 71. Both individuals have left a huge impact on music as we know it today, and both are members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Clark was inducted in 1993 under the Non-Performer category, and Helm was inducted the following year as a member of The Band.

For 50 years, Dick Clark has been one of the most recognizable and respected men in television. However, he got his start on radio as a country DJ. After moving to Philadelphia to run a radio show called Bandstand, he made his legendary move to television.  His program, re-titled American Bandstand was one of the most important, if not the most important, music-related show in television history. Breaking down many color and genre barriers, American Bandstand featured live performers, and helped introduce the country to artists like the Beach Boys, Johnny Cash, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, Simon & Garfunkel, and many more. Over the years, the show remained a driving force in the industry, and artists such as Madonna (who famously announced that her goal was “to rule the world,”) and Prince (who famously was too nervous to even answer a question) got their break through hits after performing on the show.

Dick Clark’s television domination didn’t just end with American Bandstand, though. He moved onto hosting game shows, the most famous of which was $100,000 Pyramid. However, arguably his most famous venture, which still exists today, is Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. The program, which broadcasted the famous ball drop in Times Square, New York City on New Year’s Eve helped take the event not just nationally, but world-wide. The annual special features many music acts, which help ring in the New Year. In 2004, Clark suffered a stroke, which, although he survived, prevented him from speaking clearly for the rest of this life, thus preventing him from hosting Rockin’ New Years Eve. Fellow television and radio personality, Ryan Seacrest, took over, with Dick coming out to say a few words at the end. Mr. Clark helped revolutionize pop culture, as we know it, and will be greatly missed.

Sadly, the music industry lost another important figure with Levon Helm’s passing. Helm had been playing music since the late-50s, after joining the backing group for Ronnie Hawkins, “The Hawks,” who later performed with Bob Dylan after he decided to go electric. It wasn’t until the late 60’s that the group decided to break out on their own, simply under the name “The Band.” The group’s debut album, Music From Big Pink, earned them much acclaim, especially after the single “The Weight” started to cross over. The album went on to rank #34 on Rolling Stone’s list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, and the song came in at #41 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs. While all of the members of the Canadian group played multiple instruments, Helm acted as the group’s main drummer. He also provided vocals to many notable songs over the course of the group’s tenure, including “The Weight,” “Up On Cripple Creek,” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”

After releasing several more albums throughout the next half-decade or so, The Band decided to retire from touring, but decided to go out with a bang. Entitled The Last Waltz, the group gathered an A-list of musicians to join them at a “farewell” concert, including Ronnie Hawkins and Bob Dylan, their original bandleaders, but also Muddy Waters, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Ringo Starr, and many more. The concert was filmed by director Martin Scorsese, and released as a concert film and live album to overwhelming acclaim. The Band reformed later, without bandleader Robbie Robertson, but Levon’s musical ventures continued elsewhere as well. He, as well as band mate Rick Danko joined one incarnation of Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band, and even joined Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters to perform The Wall in a legendary concert to almost half a million people. Helm later went out to form The Midnight Ramble, a super-group, of sorts, similar to The Last Waltz.

Levon Helm was performing right up until he physically couldn’t anymore. In the early part of this year, he had to cancel shows, blaming it on a slipped disk in his back. However, on April 17, his family announced that he was “in the final stages of his battle with cancer.” Surrounded by his family and former band mates, including Robbie Robertson, Levon passed away just two days later. His death ignited a huge outpouring of grief and remembrance from the music community, including a full-page obituary in the New York Times. Levon Helm’s legacy will continue on in the music he left behind.