Bill Graham, Presented

Bill Graham made a career of presenting other artists, and now he’s getting his artistic due with a unique museum exhibit of the late impresario’s life and work told in photographs, called “Presenting: Bill Graham” at the Lush Life Gallery at the Jazz Heritage Center in San Francisco during May.

Curated and mounted by the Bill Graham Memorial Foundation that carries on Graham’s substantial philanthropic work, “Presenting: Bill Graham” is free to the public beginning May 5.

The exhibit represents a journey through the life and times of Graham, from his childhood in Nazi Germany and escape to New York City, to his rise as a legendary concert promoter during the cultural earthquake of the 1960s in San Francisco of which he was at the epicenter.

Photo: Lush Life Gallery/Jazz Heritage Center

His story is told in his own words, through captions culled from the biography “Bill Graham Presents: My Life Inside Rock and Out,” co-written by Robert Greenfield.

More than 100 images comprise the exhibit and, with the exception of some on loan from photographers and collectors of the era, all come from Graham’s family – and many have never before been seen publicly. Before his 1991 death in a helicopter crash, Graham personally had many of the items framed and displayed in his offices and homes.

The Lush Life Gallery is at the center of the Jazz Heritage Center in San Francisco’s Fillmore District, from which the famed Fillmore auditorium is named.

“Better than anyone I have ever known, Bill understood the music, the artists who make it, and, most importantly of all, how to present all this to an audience safely and with enormous flair,” BGMF Executive Director Bonnie Simmons said. “As I worked on this exhibit, I was constantly reminded of the lessons Bill taught us all and of his remarkable, unstoppable spirit.

“We are very happy to be able to bring this story of an amazing man and his extraordinary times to everyone.”

Simmons, who worked with Graham behind the mic as deejay at KSAN-FM and then for him at Bill Graham Management, became executive director in 2010, following another industry and BGP vet, Morty Wiggins.

The exhibit marks a bit of a more public splash for the Bill Graham Memorial Foundation as well. Formed in 2008, the BGMF has worked quietly to develop grant funding for a variety of causes that often fall below the radar of traditional large charities in the areas of music, the arts and education, while also supporting social work, environmental protection, and spiritual and compassionate projects.

Its mission also includes outreach programs and the creation of an annual community award, The Bill Graham Award.

The BGMF is funded through individual and corporate donations and grants, and its board of directors is a Who’s Who of friends, family and employees including Graham’s sons and community leaders, led by chairman Bob Barsotti, vice presidents Richard Idell, Rita Gentry and Rick Swig, chief financial officer Danny Scher and secretary Elena Peña.

David and Alex Graham, Bill’s sons, serve on a board of directors that also includes Dawn Holliday, Shelley Lazar, Arlene Owseichik, Jan Simmons, Lee Smith and Wiggins.

For more information, click here for the Jazz Heritage Center’s website.