Bill Graham (1931-1991) was an impresario like no other.
Graham was the genius behind the legendary Fillmore, the venue that still operates at the corner of Fillmore Street and Geary Boulevard. Graham's work as a concert promoter at The Fillmore was pivotal in establishing the legacies of the many musical icons who came of age during the late 1960s. Legends including Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead, The Jefferson Airplane, and numerous other performers from San Francisco and beyond made musical history at The Fillmore.
The Contemporary Jewish Museum now pays homage to Graham's breathtaking career with Bill Graham and the Rock and Roll Revolution, currently on display through July 5. The exhibition is a treasure trove of Graham memorabilia, a journey back to an era which changed the country.
[jump] There's an unexpected connection between Graham and Roman Vishniac Rediscovered, the Holocaust-themed photo exhibit also on display at CJM. Born Wolfgang Grajonca in Berlin, Graham was a Jewish kid—Hitler youth tried to recruit him, according to CJM notes. His mom sent him to the United States, and the young Graham never saw his family again. The exhibition includes photos of Graham with his birth family which were taken in Germany, and photos of his life in The Bronx, where he was taken in as a foster child. Also on display are Graham's Declaration of Intention to become a U.S. citizen, dated 1949, and his 1954 Certificate of Naturalization.
It's Graham's incomparable career as a music promoter which makes up the bulk of Bill Graham and the Rock and Roll Revolution.
CJM attendees might be left gasping for breath at the sight of an actual costume worn by Janis Joplin on stage at The Fillmore, or as they get a close look at Pete Townsend's guitar, circa 1968. Other pieces include dozens of original posters which heralded the acts that had been booked to perform at The Fillmore during that never-to-be-forgotten era.
Visitors can also experience actual Fillmore concerts. Sprinkled throughout the exhibition hall are kiosks with which recordings of live performances from The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service and others can be heard through earphones.
Things even get a little personal as museum patrons gaze upon a note written to Graham by folk-rock legend Donovan.
“Bill, you are by far the friendliest, most considerate promoter I have had the pleasure to work with,” Donovan wrote in part.
It's a sentimental journey back to a time and place many wish had never ended.
Bill Graham and the Summer of Love, through July 5 at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, 736 Mission, 415-655-7800.