The year was 1939, and a young Jewish German boy was being sent by his parents to France in order to escape the impending Holocaust. Two years later he would become one of the One Thousand Children, or OTC, a large group of Jewish children who were sent to North America without their parents in order to escape the Reich. Precisely 44 years later, that boy, now a man, would be considered one of the most influential names in rock music, both from his work in concert promoting and venue creation. That man was Bill Graham, and he was one of the freedom fighters in the Rock and Roll Revolution.
Bill Graham and the Rock and Roll Revolution, a museum exhibit featuring the legendary music promoter’s life’s work and many other pieces of classic rock memorabilia, has made its way to Philadelphia’s National Museum of American Jewish History.
The exhibit, which features prominently on the museum’s fifth floor and main rotating showroom, contains countless photographs, concert posters, and instruments owned by famous musicians.
The show opened on Sept. 16, 2016, and will continue until Jan. 16 after the new year. The exhibit is organized and circulated by the Skirball Cultural Center, in Los Angeles. Many of the items and resources have been provided by the Bill Graham Memorial Foundation, as well as Graham’s two sons, Alex and David.
“We have a really good relationship with the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, who originated this exhibit,” Said Alyssa Stuble, marketing and communications assistant for the Nation Museum of American Jewish History. “We sort of did a trade, they took our baseball exhibit and we took this one, which is very common.”
Graham is know as a massively influential music promoter who played a huge part in founding the music renaissance of the 1960s and helped shaped the careers of countless artists, including Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, Santana, Jefferson Airplane, Led Zeppelin, The Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, and Neil Young. Many artifacts of these artists are on display in the museum exhibit, including a fragment of one of Jimi Hendrix’s stratocasters left over from his trademark post-show guitar smashing.
This audio slideshow below showcases just a small slice of the exhibit, with Stuble discussing Bill Graham’s life, relationships, and career.
After being sent to the United States, Graham spent most of his remaining childhood in a foster home in the Bronx. After graduating from City College in New York with a degree in business, he moved to San Francisco and immediately became involved in promoting small shows, troupes, and benefits. The connections that he made in the small time would prove to be paramount to shaping Graham’s career and the face of the Rock and Roll Revolution.
According to Chron.com, the average concert promoter makes between $58,000 and $77,000 a year.
Graham helped build a name for the now legendary Fillmore Theater in San Francisco, which through his organization skills, business acumen, and promoting expertise helped launch the career of countless famous music acts. The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Santana, Cream, and Jimi Hendrix are just a handful of the revolutionary artists that were able to hone their careers at the Fillmore. Without Graham, it is likely that many of the western-born classic rock acts would never have become even as close to as famous as they are now.
This map below showcases a few major points in Graham’s personal life, as well as important locations for many of the bands he worked with.
Graham’s notable interest in music and its powerful emotional abilities led to his self-made career of promoting shows using music as a driving force for charities and benefits.
One of Graham’s most famous shows and benefit concerts was Philly Live Aid in 1985, which was held in order to fund relief for the Ethiopian famine at the time, and has inspired a string of similar benefit concerts over the next few decades. The concert took place at the now demolished outdoor arena John F. Kennedy Stadium, which has since been replaced by the Wells Fargo Center. Live Aid took the shape of two separate concerts held simultaneously, one in Philadelphia and the other at Wembley Stadium in London, England. Bob Geldof, another concert promoter, organized the London concert, while Graham organized the Philadelphia concert. It is estimated that between $43 and $53 million had been raised between the two concerts.
According to One.org, the same Ethiopian famine of 1984-85 resulted in the estimated death of one million Ethiopian people.
In 1991, Graham died an early death at 60 years old in a devastating helicopter crash. He had been returning home after a Huey Lewis and the News concert in California, where he had been discussing with the band a benefit show that he had been planning. Despite bad weather conditions, the flight proceeded as planned until a loss of control of the helicopter caused it to crash into a 223-foot tall high voltage tower. In a burst of flames, the pilot, Graham, Graham’s girlfriend, and one other passenger were all killed.
On Nov. 3 of that same year, not even two weeks later, a massive free concert called “Laughter, Love and Music” was held to commemorate Graham and the other victims of the helicopter crash. The bands performing were largely bands Graham had personal connections with including The Grateful Dead, Santana, Journey, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
Graham’s memory and massive impact on the world of music is still with us today, and many lovers of music, especially music out of the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, have him to thank for such a vibrant rock and roll revolution.