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MusicPop Culture

Hardly Strictly Warren Hellman

Sep 18, 2014–Jun 16, 2016

The Contemporary Jewish Museum celebrates the legacy of one of San Francisco’s greatest and most beloved benefactors in a new exhibition: Hardly Strictly Warren Hellman. Warren Hellman (1934-2011) was an investment banker, philanthropist, musician, and music enthusiast who believed in the importance of community arts. Among a host of business and philanthropic accomplishments, Hellman may now be best recognized for the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival (HSB), which he founded in 2001. Held annually in Golden Gate Park, the free festival draws more than 700,000 people.

about the exhibition

Hardly Strictly Warren Hellman centers on video projection and audio listening stations featuring musical performances from HSB’s archive of artists—available to the general public for the first time. Special, resonant personal objects are also included—such as Hellman’s Star-of-David rhinestone studded jacket and signed banjo—along with other HSB ephemera.

Born into a prominent California family, Hellman created his own enduring legacy. Described by The Bay Citizen as a “Republican who supported labor unions, an investment banker whose greatest joy was playing songs of the working class in a bluegrass band, ” Hellman was a distinctly San Franciscan iconoclast and uniquely Jewish figure.

gallery photos
about warren hellman

Warren Hellman (1934–2011) was born in New York City and grew up in Vacaville and San Francisco, CA. He was the great-grandson of Isaias W. Hellman, the president of Wells Fargo Nevada National Bank. Hellman was a graduate of Lowell High School in San Francisco, the University of California at Berkeley (1955), and Harvard Business School (1959).

Hellman was a pioneer in the private equity business. After a distinguished career on Wall Street, he co-founded Hellman & Friedman in 1984 with Tully Friedman, and built it into one of the industry’s leading private equity firms. Prior to that, Hellman was a general partner of Boston-based venture capital firm Hellman, Ferri Investment Associates, today known as Matrix Partners. Hellman also worked at Lehman Brothers, where he served as President as well as head of the Investment Banking Division.

Hellman was a noted philanthropist with strong roots in a wide variety of local causes and a supporter of organizations large and small, standard and surprising. He was an active participant within the Bay Area community and gave generously of his time and experience to make a difference. His extraordinary generosity touched the lives of many. Hellman served as a past Chairman and Trustee Emeritus of The San Francisco Foundation and was a well-known contributor to St. Anthony’s Foundation, Golden Gate Park, and the San Francisco Free Clinic. He was an avid proponent of public education and was a proud public school graduate himself. When he was Chair of the San Francisco Foundation, he convened the San Francisco School Alliance bringing the business community and funders to support and partner with the San Francisco Unified School District. He served as a member of the Advisory Board of the Walter A. Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley and Trustee of the UC Berkeley Foundation. Hellman was also a contributor to the UC Berkeley aquatics program where he helped endow the Men’s Water Polo Program, and instituted the Hellman Fellows Program at the University of California. In addition to serving the community at large, Hellman was also a member of the Board of Directors & Executive Committee for the Jewish Community Federation and Chair of the Jewish Community Endowment Fund. He was Founder and Chairman of the Board of The Bay Citizen, a non-profit local news organization, and a Trustee Emeritus of the Brookings Institution.

Hellman had a deep love of music, none more than bluegrass, the appreciation of which he always said was “hard-wired.” Later in his life, he became an accomplished 5-string banjo player, and had an old-time band called The Wronglers with whom he performed all over the US. Hellman was the Founder and principal sponsor of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. In 2005, he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Hellman and his wife Chris, a former dancer, were generous supporters of the arts, including the San Francisco Ballet, where Chris chaired the Board for many years and helped make the San Francisco Ballet one of the leading ballet companies in the world today. Hellman also supported San Francisco’s ODC contemporary dance company and served as Chairman of Voice of Dance.

Hellman played an active role in civic affairs in San Francisco and California. Dedicated to the well-being of San Francisco citizens, he served as a board member of the Committee on JOBS, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, and Bay Area Council.

Hellman had his Bar Mitzvah with his daughter at the age of seventy-five. He ensured that HSB would continue, leaving an endowment for its continuation for 15 years. After his death, Hellman was honored by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, who officially renamed Golden Gate Park’s Speedway Meadow, the location of the annual Festival, to Hellman Hollow.

image gallery

Hardly Strictly Warren Hellman is organized by The Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco. Major Sponsorship for this exhibition is provided by Osterweis Capital Management. Additional generous support is provided by Phyllis Cook, the Carla and David Crane Foundation of the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund, the Hellman Family, and Rosanne and Al Levitt.

Major support for The Contemporary Jewish Museum’s exhibitions and Jewish Peoplehood Programs comes from the Koret Foundation.

Image Credit

Header image: Warren Hellman, Alison Earle (in back), Steve Earle, Buddy Miller, John Doe, Jimmie Dale Gilmore (in back) Elvis Costello, Peter Rowan, Jim Lauderdale, The Del McCoury Band. © Jay Blakesberg. Gallery photos: JKA Photography.