Photo Credit: Tom Tomkinson
The Black Legacy Of San Francisco’s Most Iconic Music Venue
Located right across from San Francisco City Hall, the massive gold-accented music venue can hold up to 8,000 guests and has multiple floors where concert-goers can get an aerial view of their favorite performers. I knew the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium was special after my first time experiencing a live performance in the space and seeing how the venue transforms into a cultural community where music is the universal language.
Not only has Bill Graham become an entertainment landmark for the local SF community, but the music venue has housed many civic engagements in the mid-1900s that have helped push the US towards social equality.
In 1915, the Civic Auditorium was built and established but later named after rock-and-roll promoter, Bill Graham, who booked many popular rock bands at the San Francisco concert hall. Before Bill Graham’s management of the arena, political ceremonies and campaigns were hosted in the auditorium.
On June 27, 1956, Martin Luther King Jr. gave his speech in the Civic Center Plaza concert hall to address members of the NAACP alongside Rosa Parks. This was one of the rare years the NAACP held its national convention in San Francisco.
Within the 1950s and 60s, myriads of Black iconic musicians would perform for multiple days at Bill Graham. Musical idols like Ray Charles, The Temptations, and Gladys Knight & The Pips had headlining shows during this time period.
Fast-forward to 2012, Barack Obama had a benefit concert with John Legend and fundraiser speeches orchestrated at the Bill Graham auditorium. Since 2010, the venue space has been overseen by the organizer’s Another Planet Entertainment, who book the artists that perform on-stage.
With APE scheduling out future performers at Bill Graham, in the past decade, San Francisco locals have seen Janet Jackson, Lauryn Hill, Chance The Rapper, Kehlani, Lizzo, and Anderson Paak marquees shine at night. The Black legacy of San Francisco’s most important musical venue, the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, has always been at the helm of unifying people through art, history, and culture.