Grateful Dead Promoter Bill Graham Gets First Museum Retrospective


Bill Graham photographed in 1972.

The first comprehensive exhibition on music impresario Bill Graham will be mounted at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles starting May 7.

"Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution" will include memorabilia, photographs, archival concert footage, historical and new video interviews and psychedelic art related to the career of the godfather of the San Francisco concert scene and one of the most influential concert promoters in history.

Photographs and artifacts, on loan from the Graham family, are on view to the public for the first time along with  preparatory drawings and the original artwork of several iconic Fillmore concert posters from artists Bonnie MacLean, Wes Wilson, David Singer, Greg Irons and David Byrd.

The exhibit will include the original apple barrel that greeted fans with fresh apples at the entrance to the Fillmore Auditorium; letters and gifts from performers and fans; and remarkable live performance and backstage photos from the Fillmore, Winterland, Day on the Green, Live Aid and other Bill Graham Presents concerts. Multimedia artist Joshua White is creating a customized version of his liquid light show conceived in 1967 that served as a backdrop to many Graham-produced shows.

Berlin-born Graham, who died in a helicopter crash in 1991 at the age of 60, was known for working with the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Santana, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones and countless others. The exhibit will illuminate how Graham's childhood experiences as a Jewish emigrant fueled his drive as a cultural innovator and advocate for social justice. Graham was instrumental in the production of milestone benefit concerts such as Live Aid in 1985 and Human Rights Now! three years later.

The exhibition coincides with two 50th anniversaries: Graham's first concert and the Grateful Dead's live debut. Graham made his debut as a promoter on Nov. 6, 1965 when, as business manager for the San Francisco Mime Troupe, he staged a fundraiser to support the legal defense of one of the Mime Troupe actors. Soon thereafter he took over the lease on the Fillmore Auditorium.

The Dead, then known as the Warlocks, played their first show on May 5, 1965; their first concert as the Grateful Dead

Related exhibitions, concerts and other public programs will be announced in March. The exhibit runs through Oct. 11.