You might be wondering why the Florida Holocaust Museum is hosting a rock and roll exhibit. It has a perfect symmetry since legendary mega-concert promoter Bill Graham escaped Europe as one of the thousand children (OTC) who were snuck out of Europe to the United States. Of the sixty four children that were sent to a children’s home, Bill was one of eleven to survive. Bill literally walked across Europe as an 8 year old child. Mr. Graham’s parents and a sister perished in Germany, but he and four of his sisters managed to survive and make it to America. Bill’s early story is fascinating. Bill made it to America and landed in a foster home in Brooklyn at age 10, before making his way to the San Francisco Bay Area as an adult to make his mark in the music business. And what a mark he made!
This exhibit is an amazing array of music memorabilia and time travel into the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s! You will find everyone from Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and those Sarasota favorites, the Allman Brothers Band. There is a guitar on display played by Duane Allman at the live Fillmore East recordings. Graham worked with the world’s biggest rock stars of the time! Morrison, Jagger and for all you Deadheads out there, this is a treasure trove of musical artifacts! Famous posters from both the East and West Fillmore venues adorn the walls of the exhibit. Photographs of venues around the world, live concerts shots and backstage one of a kind photos, like the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin that will take your breath away.
I went to the exhibit on opening weekend and was treated to hearing the sons of Bill Graham, David and Alex, who started the Bill Graham Memorial Foundation to keep their father’s memory alive as a philanthropist as well as a concert promoter. Bill was always giving back to others. The foundation provides grants, subsidizes various music programs and brings the exhibit to different cities. The exhibit will be headed to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland next year! Bill was inducted into the Hall of Fame posthumously in 1992 as a non-performer. Bill was instrumental in bringing shows to the masses and changing the face of rock and roll touring!
David and Alex shared some humorous stories of things that happened at shows they attended as children with Bill. As we walked around the exhibit to find a good place to take a photo, we decided on an Andy Warhol of Mick Jagger that Jagger gifted to Bill. The story goes that Bill let Jagger use his home to stay in while Bill and his family went to a hotel. Mick had a party at the house and the house got trashed!! Jagger felt so bad about it that he gifted Graham with the Warhol among other things! Bill had worked with the Stones many times but would not have anything to do with the infamous Altamonte show! He told Jagger and company not to do the show with the Hell’s Angels as security. He was right about the disaster it turned into. After that, Jagger listened to what Graham told him. Graham produced some great historic shows at Wembley Stadium in London with the Stones and they remained great friends.
Asking David about Bill’s largest show undertaking, he said “No doubt, it was Live Aid” Graham produced the Philadelphia portion of the Live Aid show on August 13, 1985, seen around the world! Dealing with artists and entourages was just a small part of the huge undertaking of the historical show! There is some great memorabilia from Live Aid on display at the exhibit.
The Florida Holocaust Museum has been working to bring the exhibit to the Tampa Bay area for over two years. Executive Director Elizabeth Gelman said “We are very excited and honored to be hosting this exhibit”. The exhibit will be at the museum through February 2019. Admission is $16.00 to see the Holocaust museum which is powerful and includes the Bill Graham exhibit and there is free parking. Be sure and take the audio tour which will give you a wealth of information as you are walking around the tour. This is a great, not-to-miss opportunity to see some of the most incredible musical history of our time!
Photos courtesy of Vicky Sullivan / Rock the Lens Photography