Rock promoter Bill Graham was dedicated to causes

October 28, 1991|By Robert Hilburn | Robert Hilburn,Los Angeles Times

HOLLYWOOD -- More than the death of anyone in rock 'n' roll since John Lennon in 1980, the loss of Bill Graham Friday night in a helicopter crash represents the end of an era.

In the narrowest of terms, Graham was the nation's most celebrated rock promoter -- a man who staged concerts or entire tours over the past 2 1/2 decades for such major attractions as the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin and U2.

In the widest sense, however, Graham was also a conscience and activist in rock -- a man whose name was linked not only to most of music's great names, but also to its grandest causes, from the landmark Live Aid benefit concerts in 1985 to the worldwide Amnesty International tour of 1988.

Part of his drive may have grown out of his tragic background. Born in Berlin in 1931 as Wolfgang Grajonca, he was turned over to an orphanage by his mother after his father died. During World War II, Graham and some other orphans were taken by Red Cross officials to the United States. He learned later that his mother had died in a concentration camp.

Despite the trials of his own childhood, he found ways as an adult to believe in the goodness of man and in the soul-stirring celebration of art. Like so many of his generation, he lamented the loss in recent years of the sociological connection that existed between performers and fans in the '60s.

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