On November 6, a crowd gathered in front of the Goodwill building at 1669 Fillmore Street to celebrate the dedication of a new mural honoring prominent concert promoter Bill Graham. As his son David Graham told attendees, the date was significant because it marked the 58th anniversary of the first show his father had a hand in: the inaugural Mime Troupe Legal Funds Benefit, which took place in San Francisco in 1965.
Attendees listen to speeches at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new Bill Graham mural. I Photo credit: Dorothy O'Donnell
The Bill Graham Memorial Foundation collaborated with Mission Art 415, Goodwill San Francisco Bay, District Five Supervisor Dean Preston, and Artist Wes Marks to bring the striking tribute to Graham to life.
Lisa Brewer, CEO of Mission Art 415, kicks off the dedication ceremony speeches. Photo credit: Dorothy O'Donnell
In addition to David Graham, a number of other folks involved with the mural project, or with ties to Bill Graham — a Holocaust survivor born in Berlin who was among the One Thousand Children (OTC) sent to America without their parents — shared stories about the rock impresario during the hour-long dedication ceremony.
Supervisor Dean Preston addresses the crowd at the dedication ceremony. Photo Credit: Dorothy O'Donnell
“Celebrating the arts has never been more important than it is today,” said Preston. “Bill Graham was a visionary for San Francisco arts and culture. From his days managing the San Francisco Mime Troupe in the sixties to his leadership promoting music at the Fillmore Auditorium—just a block from here— and beyond, Bill Graham has had an enormous impact on music and culture. Not just here in San Francisco, but across the nation and globally.”
Music City founder Rudy Colombini and tour guide Blandina Farley strike a pose in front of Graham. Photo credit: Dorothy O'Donnell
Marks’ mural features a vibrant turquoise background with an image of Graham gazing into the distance from the right corner. The artist sprinkled plump red apples created with lettering inspired by the early hand-drawn psychedelic posters designed by Wes Wilson throughout the mural. Those colorful posters became synonymous with the Fillmore, as did the barrel of free Red Delicious apples that greeted concert-goers upon entering the venue. Marks’ apples spell out the names and dates of some of the major benefit concerts Graham produced over the years, including In Concert Against AIDS (1989) and Nelson Mandela for a Free South Africa (1990).
Creator of the Bill Graham mural, Wes Marks, speaks to ceremony attendees. Photo credit: Dorothy O'Donnell
The artist reflected on the respect he gained for Graham as he took a deep dive into researching his larger-than-life subject while brainstorming concepts for the mural. He drew chuckles from the crowd when he noted that as a businessman, Graham was often described as part Mother Teresa, part Al Capone.
“I think there was a level of tenacity that Bill had in his business,” said Marks. “And it wasn’t just tenacity to grab money from everywhere. There was a level of integrity and a level of purpose, obviously, from looking at all these benefits he’d do. He always balanced business with giving back and being benevolent, And I think that shows with everything that he did.”