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Rock legend Bill Graham remembered in Holocaust Museum exhibit

Bill DeYoung

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Bill Graham at the Fillmore East, New York City, circa 1971. (All photos provided by Skirball Cultural Center and the Florida Holocaust Museum)

Bill Graham was arguably the most influential concert promoter in history. As the operator of San Francisco’s legendary Fillmore West, he launched the careers of Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Santana and countless other quintessential American artists.

Yet Graham (1931-1991) accomplished so much more. He was an innovative producer and entrepreneur who created the rock ‘n’ roll stadium tour concept of the 1970s, changing the game – and increasing revenues – for key artists including Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Who and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. It was Bill Graham – along with Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner – who turned rock ‘n’ roll into big business.

He was also a key figure in rock’s evolving participation in humanitarian causes, producing, among other events, the massive Live Aid concerts in Philadelphia in 1985.

On Aug. 18, the Florida Holocaust Museum in downtown St. Petersburg debuts the exhibition Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution. Organized and circulated by the Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles, the traveling exhibit features more than 400 items, including guitars owned by Pete Townshend, Duane Allman and Jimi Hendrix, vintage concert posters and rare photos – plus concert footage, video interviews, a psychedelic light show, original stage wear and an audio tour “by” Graham himself, edited from radio interviews.

July 1985, Philadelphia: Graham (far right) on the sidelines as Tina Turner and Mick Jagger perform on the Live Aid stage.

It was named one of the best museum shows of 2017 by the Chicago Tribune.

It’s being installed at the Florida Holocaust Museum because Graham, born in Berlin as Wulf Wolodia Grajonca, escaped Nazi Germany as an 11-year-old refugee. He was one of the “One Thousand Children,” approximately 1,400 Jewish children whose parents arranged to get them out of Europe between 1934 and 1945, as Adolf Hitler assumed power.

Wulf Wolodia Grajonca and his sister Tolla made the difficult Atlantic crossing; she did not survive the journey. Their mother died at Auschwitz.

Growing up in The Bronx, Grajonca worked hard as a child to lose his German accent, and took the name Bill Graham from a New York phone book.

He served in the Korean War, where he was awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart, and re-located to the San Francisco area in the early 1960s.

The Graham family has provided rare and treasured photos and personal artifacts for the exhibit, which will remain in St. Petersburg through February, 2019.

Graham was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992.

For more information, click here to visit the Florida Holocaust Museum website.

 

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