A new mural recently unveiled in San Francisco pays tribute to legendary rock impresario Bill Graham, whose impact on the concert industry changed live music in the Bay Area and beyond.
Located on the wall outside a Goodwill at the corner of Post and Fillmore, the mural sits one block away from Graham’s flagship Fillmore and the nearby site of the former Winterland Ballroom. Commissioned by neighborhood group MissionArt415 and the Bill Graham Memorial Foundation, the piece depicts a 1985 photo of Graham at the Fillmore by Ken Friedman that captures his legendary intensity.
“One of the great things about that photo was it exemplified something that I heard people say about Bill often,” mural artist Wes Marks, who painted it with aerosol cans, told NBC Bay Area. “That he was one part Mother Theresa, one part Al Capone.”
The mural uses psychedelic fonts popularized by local artists like Stanley Mouse on posters for shows at Graham’s venues. Rather than advertising certain bands, the text highlights some of the many benefit concerts Graham threw for causes both near and far, like the 1975 Snack Concert for San Francisco schools and the Concert Against AIDS in 1989. The titles are stylized to look like apples, a reference to the free apples Graham would distribute outside the Fillmore.
“It’s a friggin’ masterpiece,” Bill’s son David Graham said of the mural. “It’s beautiful, it’s bold, it paints dad as a superhero.”
Bill Graham began life as Wulf Wolodi Grajonca in 1931 in Berlin, where his family was torn apart by the Nazis. After his mother was killed in transportation to a concentration camp, he fled to the U.S. as a refugee and grew up in the Bronx where he took the name Bill Graham to sound more American.
Moving out to San Francisco, Graham got his start in promotion by organizing benefits for the San Francisco Mime Troupe. As he expanded into live music, Graham championed the local Bay Area artistic community by helping foster acts like the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Santana, and many more at his venues. He revolutionized concert production with his commitment to providing the best-quality live music experience and introduced generations of fans to new music by presenting multi-genre bills combining jazz, rock, blues, and more.
“He threw concerts that had a very eclectic mix of artists just to bring people out to give back to the community, to discover new music,” Marks said.
His influence grew with venues from coast to coast and eventually reached around the world as he helped organize the international benefit Live Aid and a 1987 music festival in the Soviet Union featuring Santana, The Doobie Brothers, James Taylor, and Bonnie Raitt. Graham died tragically in a 1991 helicopter crash.
“There’s a guy that came from the Holocaust and gave all these people joy and gave back to this community and made it his home,” David Graham said.
Check out a local report on the Bill Graham mural from NBC Bay Area.