Bill Graham (January 8, 1931, Berlin, Germany — October 25, 1991, Vallejo, California, USA) was an American impresario and rock concert promoter from the 1960s until his death.
Graham had no known musical talent. His talent was to know a good band when he heard it and to promote it in concerts at one of his Fillmore venues. Along with the work of Chet Helms, the visionary Graham pioneered the concepts of concert promotion in the late 1960s- introducing acts of converging musical cultures and tastes, using artistic posters & tickets to attract audiences. He was the 'Daddy' of the 'Children of The Revolution' in the musical counterculture cradles of both San Francisco and New York.
Graham's father died shortly after his birth and from an early age he was nicknamed 'Wolfgang'. He was placed, with his youngest sister Rita, in an orphanage that transfered them to France prior to the Nazi invasion. He lost both his mother and three other sisters (Evelyn, Sonja and Tolla) to the Holocaust. His sister Ester survived . He entered an orphanage in Pleasantville, New York In late 1941 and then became the foster child of Bronx residents Alfred and Pearl Ehrenreich. He changed his name to 'William' and 'Graham', chosen from a 'phonebook as being nearest to his real name, graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School and attended a business school in New York.
He was manager of a NY office equipment company when he met future wife Bonnie MacLean. In the mid 1960s he was residing in San Francisco and fell in with a local performance art group, the 'Mime Troupe'. In late 1965 members of the group were arrested on obscenity charges and Graham organized a benefit concert on their behalf, held on November 6 1965. The show was an enormous success and featured performances by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Jefferson Airplane and The Fugs. Graham organized two further concerts at the Fillmore Auditorium on December 10th and (with The Warlocks, soon to become The Grateful Dead) on January 14, 1966.
After the success of the 'Trips Festival' with Ken Kesey, Graham launched the first official "Bill Graham Presents" shows at the Fillmore, featuring Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Butterfield Blues Band and The Great Society- initially working in conjunction with Chet Helms and the Family Dog collective, along with Big Brother & The Holding Company. His use of psychedelic posters and special effects, such as light shows and slide projections, paved the way for the future of concert promotion and opened the eyes of his audiences to a generation of new stars, from the soul of Otis Redding, the blues of Howlin' Wolf, the Latin-funk fusions of Santana, the electric Jimi Hendrix, the compositional genius of Zappa and the free-form jazz of Roland Kirk.
In early 1968 Graham opened the Fillmore East in New York and, in July 1968, he also moved from the original Fillmore to the nearby Carousel Ballroom, later named the Fillmore West, opening with a line-up of Butterfield Blues Band and Ten Years After. Graham then co-founded his own labels, Fillmore Records and San Francisco Records in 1969 - the same year the Fillmore West hosted the first headlining appearance of Band. His skills were called upon as advisor for the Monterey Pop Festival & Woodstock. The Fillmore East was closed in June 1971 with a series of shows headlined by the The Allman Brothers Band, followed by closure of the Fillmore West a few weeks later - covered in the documentary and LP-set "The Last Days of the Fillmore" featuring performances by the Grateful Dead, Hot Tuna, Boz Scaggs, Tower Of Power and It's A Beautiful Day.
Graham returned to the Bay Area and began producing shows at Berkeley Community Center and Winterland, mounting national tours for Bob Dylan and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. In 1975, he founded SNACK (San Francisco Needs Athletics, Culture and Kicks), created to fund activities in the city school system. He also appeared in a small role in Francis Ford Coppola's film 'Apocalypse Now' and produced the Rolling Stones' hugely successful 1981 tour of America, the 1985 Philadelphia Live Aid concert and Amnesty International "Conspiracy of Hope" world tour featuring U2, Sting and Peter Gabriel.
Returning home from a concert at the Concord Pavilion the helicopter in which Graham was traveling crashed into a highway power line, killing him and his partner Melissa Gold and pilot Steve Kahn. He left two sons, David and Alexander. His benefit & memorial concert 'Laughter, Love & Music' included the re-uniting of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young for the event.
Inducted into Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in 1992 (Non-Performer).