Warren Hellman – Wrongler, Philanthropist, Founder of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival – Passes Away in San Francisco
Last October I had the rare opportunity to have a brief breakfast with Jimmie Dale Gilmore and the late-great Warren Hellman in Nashville. I expected Warren to be somewhat high-powered and even a bit intimidating, but instead, he was self-effacing, light-hearted and kind. The three of us became like old friends talking about our love for music. He was especially vocal about his love for folk and bluegrass and talked fondly about jamming with Earl Scruggs. He talked with admiration about the Occupy Wall Street Movement and suggested the need for Pete Seeger to show up. Pete must’ve taken his advice, because a few weeks later, he did. As we parted, the three of us agreed we had to get together and continue our conversation. I tried to arrange a follow-up interview but found through his publicist that Warren had gone into chemotherapy and would most likely be unavailable for a while. I did see him perform with The Wronglers at The Station Inn in Nashville at what must’ve been one of their last shows. Emmylou came by to lend support. It was a great, informal and joyous set with Warren looking proud, content and peaceful on the stage even as he may have suffered a slight bout of nerves. But, he did well that night.
I can say, that the first thing I said to him the morning we met was, “Thank you so much for Hardly, Strictly!” He simply smiled and said with a shy grin…”Well, you’re welcome.” Once again Warren…Thank you..for your love of music and life. May you rest in the blessed light and ambience of the music and people you loved.
SAN FRANCISCO, California — After a wildly successful year performing shows across the country with his beloved Wronglers and Texas music icon Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Warren Hellman, Philanthropist, Founder of the popular Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival and Influential Financial Wizard, passed away in San Francisco Sunday evening.
Mr. Hellman, 77, had been battling leukemia in recent months.
“Musicians and music lovers have lost a truly good friend,” Gilmore said. “Warren’s boundless enthusiasm, humor and generosity added up to an enormous gift for thousands of people. He and I were kindred spirits when it came to music and I feel extremely fortunate to have known and worked with him.”
Mr. Hellman met Gilmore during in 2002, the second year of what was then known as The Strictly Bluegrass Festival. The two men shared a love of early American folk and bluegrass music and in early 2011, they released The Wronglers with Jimmie Dale Gilmore: Heirloom Music. The album was greeting with great acclaim and lead to concerts and appearances in clubs from New York to California, and public radio programs like A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor, E-Town, Mountain Stage and Fresh Air.
Re-printed courtesy of Lance Cowan
Originally started by Mr. Hellman as a music-lover’s gift to his city the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival has come to be appreciated world-wide. Last year, the free to the public festival attracted more than 750,000 people over three days, and showcased such a diverse lineup as The Flatlanders (with Joe Ely, Butch Hancock & Gilmore), Steve Earle, Randy Newman, Elvis Costello, Patti Smith, John Mellencamp, Gillian Welch & David Rawlings, Robert Plant and Emmylou Harris, among others.
Last week, the city of San Francisco renamed Speedway Meadow, the site of the festival, Hellman’s Hollow.
He was also a backer of Slim’s and the Great American Music Hall venues in San Francisco, and a major donor to the Freight & Salvage in Berkeley, California.
“Despite his background as an investment banker,” wrote Debbie Speer in Pollstar, “Hellman told the San Francisco Chronicle that his greatest satisfaction came not from the money he made, but what he was able to give away.”
Mr. Hellman was instrumental in helping reform San Francisco’s pension system and created an underground parking garage beneath Golden Gate Park. He also supported the San Francisco Free Clinic and helped set up an endowment to support aquatic sports at UC Berkeley, as well as forming The Bay Citizen online newspaper in an effort to boost local news coverage.
Mr. Hellman also established a trust that will allow the continuation of the Hardly Strictly Festival for years to come.
In the financial world, Mr. Hellman had a prominent finance career, heading Lehman Brothers in New York before moving back home to San Francisco and opening a money management business, Hellman & Friedman, one of the country’s most successful private equity funds.
“Impish and informal, the wiry Mr. Hellman was something of a free spirit,” wrote The New York Times. “With his frayed khakis and cowboy shirts, Mr. Hellman stood in stark contrast to his more buttoned-down private equity peers.”
Born on July 25, 1934 in Manhattan, Mr. Hellman grew up in San Francisco and graduated from the University of California, Berkeley. Following graduation from Harvard Business School in 1959, he joined Lehman Brothers, where he quickly earned a respected reputation as an aggressive and fiercely competitive dealmaker, earning the nickname, Hurricane Hellman. He became the youngest partner in the firm’s history at the age of 26, and in 1973, at the age of 39, he became president.
He remained at Lehman Brothers until 1977, when he moved to Boston and turned his attention to investing. One of his early firms, now called Matrix Brothers, was an early backer of Apple Computers.
In 1984, he returned to San Francisco and along with Tully Friedman began Hellman & Friedman, which he set out to build as the exact opposite of Lehman, an organization that he described as nasty and corrosive.
Mr. Hellman is survived by his wife of 56 years, Chris, and his four children, Mick, Tricia Gibbs, Frances Hellman and Judith Hellman; 12 grandchildren and one great-grandchild. A Memorial service is being held on Wednesday, Dec. 21, at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco. In lieu of flowers, the Hellman family requests that donations be made to the San Francisco Free Clinic, The Bay Citizen or the San Francisco School Alliance.
Re-printed Courtesy of Lance Cowan