Bill Graham, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Pioneer Who Escaped Nazi Germany

Chicago Tonight, WTTW TV

He was a ringmaster of rock ‘n’ roll. Promoter Bill Graham made a colossal impact on the music of the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s, and always maintained a strong social conscience.

His past was prologue. Escaping Nazi Germany as a child helped form the man who became a tireless champion of popular music.


Phil Ponce: He helped launch Jefferson Airplane, raise the Grateful Dead, and bring Jimi Hendrix, Santana and The Who to a wider audience.

He revolutionized concerts with light shows, psychedelic art and theatricality.

The Illinois Holocaust Museum might seem an unusual place for an exhibition on a pioneer in American music, but Bill Graham was born in Germany in 1931.

Arielle Weininger, Illinois Holocaust Museum: Bill Graham has a history that comes out of being a child refugee from the Holocaust. It’s a similar story to many of the people associated to our museum—it’s just that he became very very famous for his rock ‘n’ roll career.

He was born in Berlin. His family put him into an orphanage once the Nazis came to power. He then was moved post-Kristallnacht to orphanages in France. Eventually the children were led out of France to Spain and then Portugal, and he made his way with a number of other refugees to the United States, to Ellis Island and the Bronx.

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