Promoter Bill Graham (born Wulf Wolodia Grajonca) opened the Fillmore East in New York’s East Village on this date in 1968, with a concert that featured Big Brother and the Holding Company (with Janis Joplin). Graham was born in Berlin in 1931. At age 8, not long after Kristallnacht, he was placed in an orphanage by his Russian immigrant mother in an effort to ensure his safety. Graham was then taken to France, and later to the U.S. in 1941 as part of HIAS’ “One Thousand Children” kindertransport. His mother died in Auschwitz. A Bronze Star veteran of the Korean War, Graham took over the Fillmore West in 1965, where he helped launch the Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, Otis Redding, Cream, Santana, and other acts of the Sixties counterculture. He closed both Fillmore theaters in 1971 but went on to produce numerous rock concert benefits for social causes, including “Live Aid” (famine relief for Ethiopia) and “Human Rights Now!” (for Amnesty International). When, in 1985, President Reagan announced his intention to lay a wreath at Germany’s Bitburg cemetery, where members of the SS were buried, Graham led protests, which resulted in his office being firebombed by neo-Nazis. He died in a helicopter crash in 1991. To honor his career, the San Francisco Civic Auditorium was renamed the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in 1992.
“Basically, it was an incredible two-year movement of people and energy. But you know what? There are still a lot of people I talk to who were influenced so much by it that it carried on in the rest of their lives. And I feel good about that.” —Bill Graham