AKA Wolfgang Grajonza
Birthplace: Berlin, Germany
Location of death: Vallejo, CA
Cause of death: Accident - Helicopter
Remains: Buried, Eternal Home Cemetery, Colma, CA
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Rock & roll promoter
Military service: US Army
Perhaps the only music organizer/promoter to become a celebrity in his own right, Bill Graham (born Wolfgang Grajonza) had a far from auspicious beginning to his life. His father's life having been claimed in an accident just days after Bill's birth, his mother was forced to place both him and one of his sisters in an orphanage; later, while studying in France on an exchange program, the two were forced to flee the country during the Nazi invasion. Graham eventually made his way to New York and was raised in foster homes in the Bronx.
Years later, after completing his service in the Korean War, Graham moved to San Francisco, pursuing a business career for several years before assuming management duties for the San Francisco Mime Troupe. After the troupe was busted for obscenity in 1965, Graham organized a benefit for their legal defense fund at a venue called The Fillmore (formerly a dance hall). The event was a huge success and launched Graham into a new career as a music promoter. Several more benefit concerts soon followed, one featuring an early appearance by the The Grateful Dead. A close association between Graham and the Dead would continue for the rest of Graham's lifetime.
The following year, Graham began to host his first non-benefit shows at the Fillmore, the first of which was headlined by Jefferson Airplane. His initial attempts to officially take control of the Fillmore were denied, the authorities going so far as to raid the venue and throw Graham in jail. Such was the resulting public outcry, however, that charges were dropped and the necessary permit was subsequently granted.
Fueled by the success of The Fillmore, Bill Graham opened The Fillmore East in New York City in 1968, and relocated the original Fillmore (renamed The Fillmore West) to a larger venue on the site of The Carousel Ballroom. Both Fillmores became music centers for the emerging counterculture, frequently showcasing bands such as The Dead, Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and Santana. In 1967, however, Graham left both venues behind to focus on the promotion of larger events.
In 1980, Graham began occasionally hosting performances in the original Fillmore building, and by 1988 a branch of the now-monstrous entity Bill Graham Presents was again regularly presenting shows until the club was forced to close as a result of structural damage suffered in the 1989 earthquake. Before restoration plans could come to fruition, however, Graham was killed in an helicopter crash in October of 1991.
Both during his lifetime and afterward, Bill Graham has had no shortage of either detractors or sycophants. A tough (and successful) businessman, it is clear that treating people too gently was not one of his personality defects. It could be argued that both his greatest praise and most severe criticism are a result of the same achievement: providing the means for the underground, independent 60s rock scene to emerge into the mainstream and evolve into a colossal money-making industry -- not that either aspect can be wholly attributed to his actions.
Left at Orphanage
Traveled to the USSR Jul-1987
Risk Factors: Ophidiophobia
FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese (11-Jun-2019) · Himself
Bugsy (13-Dec-1991) · Charlie Luciano
The Doors (1-Mar-1991)
Gardens of Stone (8-May-1987) · Don Brubaker
The Cotton Club (14-Dec-1984) · J. W.
Apocalypse Now (15-Aug-1979) · Agent
A Star Is Born (17-Dec-1976) · Himself
Muscle Beach Party (25-Mar-1964) · Surfer Boy
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