Wednesday, August 29, 2007

CBGB Founder Hilly Kristal Dies At 75

Hilly Kristal, the founder of legendary New York punk club CBGB, died yesterday (Aug. 28) due to complications from lung cancer. He was 75. Kristal founded the club in 1973 to showcase bluegrass and country acts, but it quickly became known as a breeding ground for experimental and punk music. Throughout the 1970s and '80s, the club served as a launching pad for Blondie, the Talking Heads, Television, Living Colour, Patti Smith and the Ramones, among many others. Located in the then-crime ridden Bowery, the space achieved iconic status but began to falter in the 1990s. In 2006, the club was forced to close in the face of rising rents and gentrification in the neighborhood. Before the closure, Kristal and many musicians fought valiantly to save it, throwing a number of benefit shows and even convincing New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to appear at a rally in a "Save CBGB's" t-shirt. Despite their efforts, the venue shut for good in October 2006. A retail store dedicated to selling club-related merchandise remains open on St. Marks Place in New York. Kristal was born in Manhattan in 1932 but his family relocated to Hightstown, N.J., when he was an infant. Kristal studied music from a young age and eventually attended the Settlement Music School in Philadelphia. He then moved to New York, spending the '50s and '60s performing with a variety of music acts, and later became the manager of legendary jazz club the Village Vanguard. Kristal also spent a period of time in the Marines.

Kristal is survived by a daughter, a son and two grandchildren. A private memorial will be held first, with a public tribute to follow at a date to be announced.

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