Hilly Kristal

Hilly Kristal Biography

Singer (1931–2007)
Hilly Kristal was a musician and vocalist who ran the legendary punk/rock venue CBGB, helping to launch the careers of acts like Patti Smith and Blondie.


Born in New York City on September 23, 1931, Hilly Kristal was a violinist and vocalist who went on to found CBGB, a small venue in lower Manhattan that launched famous rock/punk acts like Television, Talking Heads, Blondie and Patti Smith. Kristal earned millions from T-shirt and merchandise revenue, though the club was closed in 2006 over back rent. He died on August 28, 2007.


Hillel Kristal was born on September 23, 1931, in New York City, with his family soon moving to Hightstown, New Jersey, where he grew up. Kristal developed a passion for music, studying the violin and going on to become a vocalist at Radio City Music Hall after a stint in the military, where he entertained via radio. He also dropped a single—"Man in Space"—in the early 1960s.

Kristal went into behind the scenes musical work as well, serving as manager of iconic jazz venue the Village Vanguard by 1959 and later producing college campus performances. By the mid-'60s, Kristal had launched the cabaret club and restaurant Hilly's in the West Village, housing performers like Bette Midler during her early years on Broadway. At the end of the decade he opened another club, Hilly's on the Bowery.

Founds CBGB

In late 1973, Kristal changed the Bowery Hilly's moniker to CBGB & OMFUG, which stood for "Country Bluegrass Blues" and "Other Music for Uplifting Gourmandizers." Despite the genre tilt of its title, the small venue went in a radical direction and become a crucial, career-making site for iconic rock, punk and poetry acts from the '70s and '80s, including Talking Heads, Television, Blondie, The Ramones and Patti Smith, who had a 1975 residency there for several weeks.

Kristal's former wife Karen worked at the club and was legal owner of the venue's parent company due to Kristal going bankrupt on a past business.

Death and Controversy

Hilly Kristal died on August 28, 2007, in New York City, after battling lung cancer. Many artists whose career he supported spoke about his legacy and CBGB's major influence in music. Controversy also ensued after his death as ex-wife Karen and son Dana charged that a lion's share of Kristal's estate, worth millions due to merchandise sales, was unfairly signed over to daughter Lisa Kristal Burgman.

Alan Rickman Biopic

In the fall of 2013, the film CBGB was released; the project was directed by Randall Miller, with Harry Potter star Alan Rickman playing the lead role of Kristal. The film also co-stars another Potter alum, Rupert Grint, along with Ashley Greene, Joel David Moore and Taylor Hawkins, among others.

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