Plan your visit to The CJM!

Pop CultureMusic

Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution

Mar 17, 2016–Jul 5, 2016

Explore the life of Bill Graham (1931–1991) from his childhood as a German Jewish refugee to his pivotal role in making rock music a multi-billion dollar global industry. The exhibition looks at his immense success as a rock promoter and his pioneering work behind the scenes to use rock music to raise consciousness and deliver aid to those in need. Organized by the Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles.

about bill graham

Bill Graham (1931­–1991) was born Wolodia “Wolfgang” Grajonca in Berlin, the son of Russian Jews who emigrated to Germany in search of a better life. In 1938, after Kristallnacht, Graham’s mother decided to send him with his sister Tolla onward to France. In 1941, as part of a Red Cross effort to help Jewish children fleeing the Nazis, Graham arrived in New York, malnourished and suffering from rickets, at the age of eleven. After the war, he would learn that his mother and one of his five sisters had perished in Europe.

Graham went to live with a foster family in the Bronx and spent his teenage years in New York City before being drafted into the US Army to fight in the Korean War. Because no one could pronounce Grajonca correctly, he changed his name to Graham, selecting it from the phone book. Returning from the Korean War, he worked for a time in the Catskills and in New York City, where he decided to become an actor.

Graham relocated to San Francisco just as the hippie movement was gathering steam, and became the business manager for the San Francisco Mime Troupe. He was thirty-four years old when he organized the fundraiser to support the group founder’s legal defense on November 6, 1965, a transformative moment for Graham, who had finally found his calling.

Soon afterwards he took over the lease on the famed Fillmore Auditorium, where he produced groundbreaking shows, including sold-out concerts by the Grateful Dead, Cream, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and the Doors, among many others.

Graham was distinguished for his booking mix, bringing the bands creating the psychedelic sound together on the same stage with jazz, blues, and folk artists. He also began booking English bands that had never before performed on the west coast like The Who.

In 1968, Graham moved the Fillmore into the Carousel Ballroom, calling it Fillmore West, and opened the Fillmore East in New York. After closing the two Fillmore locations in 1971, he took over Winterland, another San Francisco concert venue, and branched into band management and tour promotion under the banner “Bill Graham Presents.” Graham also began organizing large stadium concerts locally, like Day on the Green at the Oakland Coliseum, and nationally, such as the Watkins Glen Festival in New York that drew 600,000 people.

Graham presented many landmark benefit concerts, including Live Aid in 1985 and two Amnesty International tours, “Conspiracy of Hope” and “Human Rights Now!” He was the driving force behind the 1987 Soviet-American Peace Concert in Moscow, organized a twelve-hour rock telethon that raised two million dollars for the victims of the massive earthquake that hit the Bay Area in October 1989, and more.

Graham died on October 25, 1991, when the helicopter he left in from a Huey Lewis and the News show in the East Bay crashed into an electrical tower. A week later, nearly half a million people filled the Polo Field in Golden Gate Park for a free concert held in his memory. Three months after his death, Graham was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

audio tour

Let Bill tell you his story . . . 

Listen as Bill talks about his life, from being a hidden child of the Holocaust, to his early days in upstate New York, to the full breadth of his career. Click on the link below to hear Bill's story in his own words.

Jun 23, 2016

The 60s Psychedelic Rock Music Era Comes to Life in Bill Graham Exhibit at CJM, The Atkin Report

Jun 23, 2016

San Francisco: Delarosa + Contemporary Jewish Museum, Weekend Adventures Update

Jun 9, 2016

Bill Graham: The Rock & Roll Revolution, Siliconeer

Jun 2, 2016

Art of the Fillmore, The New Fillmore

May 28, 2016

Remembering Yom HaShoah: Collections of Holocaust Art and Music, Kstati

May 27, 2016

Counterculture Exhibits in the San Francisco Bay Area, Paste

May 25, 2016

It's only Rock 'n Roll—and I like it, Flax Art & Design

May 9, 2016

Bill Graham, straight man for the Summer of Love, KALW

May 5, 2016

Bill Graham exhibit builds rock 'n' roll walk of fame, Ross Valley Reporter

May 1, 2016

Bill Graham: A Shakespearian Life, Siliconeer

Apr 19, 2016

Bill Graham and the 'Rock & Roll Revolution', KQED Forum

Apr 12, 2016

Jewish Museum Shoah Concert Honors Bill Graham, San Francisco Classical Voice

Apr 3, 2016

Bill Graham Retrospective Headlines At The Contemporary Jewish Museum, Hoodline

Apr 1, 2016

Worth a visit: a new exhibition at the Jewish Museum, Bill Graham, Balnyanim

Mar 31, 2016

Bill Graham’s vivid back story told in ‘Revolution’ at the CJM, San Francisco Examiner

Mar 31, 2016

Remembering the genius and lunacy of legendary music promoter Bill Graham, The Irish Times

Mar 29, 2016

Bill Graham at Jewish Museum Brings SF History to Life, Beyond Chron

Mar 29, 2016

Contemporary Jewish Museum Recalls Bill Graham and the Summer of Love, SF Weekly

Mar 24, 2016

Revolutionary Bay Area impresario, Bay Area Reporter

Mar 22, 2016

Alex Graham Interview, Crissy Field Media

Mar 21, 2016

12 Exhibition Openings In SF To Get Excited For in 2016, The Culture Trip

Mar 20, 2016

Remembering Bill Graham, in big, noisy, colorful style, San Francisco Chronicle

Mar 19, 2016

Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution Exhibit Belongs In SF, San Francisco Bay Area Concerts

Mar 18, 2016

Episode 3: The Contemporary Jewish Museum, Podseeker

Mar 18, 2016

"Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution" at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, Eventseeker

Mar 18, 2016

This Exhibit Is Essential for All Live Music Fans, Live Nation TV

Mar 17, 2016

Rock & Roll Revolution: Bill Graham Exhibit Explores Life and Legacy of Legendary San Francisco Concert Promoter, Inquisitr

Mar 17, 2016

Bill Graham Exhibit Opens In SF, Truly G R A H A M A Z I N G, Event City

Mar 17, 2016

Cy and David’s Picks: The Wulf of Rock & Roll, Headrest Music, and Odd Couples on Stage, KQED Do List

Mar 17, 2016

Rock Promoter Bill Graham's Legacy on Display at Contemporary Jewish Museum, CBS

Mar 16, 2016

Let's All Play Three Degrees of Bill Graham, San Francisco Magazine

Mar 16, 2016

Why You Need to See the Bill Graham Retrospective at The Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco Travel

Mar 16, 2016

Bill Graham: The Personality No Museum Could Possibly Contain, KQED Arts


Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution is organized by the Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles, in association with the Bill Graham Memorial Foundation, and made possible by the support of Alex Graham, David Graham, and Danny Scher.

The CJM’s presentation is made possible by Patron sponsorship from Gaia Fund, Maribelle and Stephen Leavitt, Lisa and John Pritzker, Dorothy R. Saxe, and the Seiger Family Foundation. Supporting sponsorship has been provided by Robert and Judy Aptekar; BNY Mellon Wealth Management; the Lisa and Douglas Goldman Fund; Fred M. Levin and Nancy Livingston, The Shenson Foundation, in memory of Ben and A. Jess Shenson; Shana Nelson Middler and David Middler; Roselyne Chroman Swig; and the Toole Family Charitable Foundation. Additional support is provided by Danny Scher. Support for associated Public Programs is provided by the Bill Graham Supporting Foundation of the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund.

Media sponsorship provided by KFOG, Live Nation, The San Francisco Chronicle, and SFGATE.

Header image: Creative inspiration from Herb Greene's photograph, Bill Graham in front of Hieroglyphic Wall, Haight-Ashbury district, San Francisco, 1966.