Bill Graham (1931–1991).
Most people know Bill Graham as one of the greatest rock concert promoters ever. He opened Fillmore West and Fillmore East as public stages for rock music legends such as Big Brother and the Holding Company, Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead and the Rolling Stones. He partied with the likes of Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, and Joan Baez. He used his concerts to raise people’s consciousness about social issues and to earn money to help those in need.
No doubt Graham’s social conscience can be traced back to his own life as a Jewish refugee in Germany and a Holocaust survivor. As the threat of Nazis grew ever closer, Graham was first sent to a safe home for Jewish children, then to France to another safe place. Soon there was no safety in Europe for him; at eleven and with no family, he was sent to America. He never left. And, the rest, as they say, is history.
With the help of his two sons, David and Alex, the Contemporary Jewish Museum is hosting an exhibit that includes well known Fillmore posters, one of Jerry Garcia’s guitars, concert footage, photographs of famous rock and rollers, and personal memorabilia like Graham’s note to this sons about coming home for a pillow fight.
Graham died in a helicopter crash in 1991 after a Huey Lewis and the News concert. Appropriately, nearly half a million people celebrated his life in a free concert in Golden Gate Park.