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While he was a semi-pro singer, managed several rock bands, ran a record label, and headed up a small but very profitable merchandising empire, Hilly Kristal will always be best remembered as the owner and proprietor of CBGB, the rock club on New York City's Bowery that became home to the first wave of punk rock and launched the careers of the Ramones, Talking Heads, Patti Smith, Blondie, and dozens of other trailblazing acts. Kristal was born in New York City on September 23, 1931, though his family moved to Hightstown, NJ, when he was young, and he spent most of his youth there. Kristal fell in love with music when he was a boy, and studied at the Settlement Music School in Philadelphia, PA. In the '50s and '60s, Kristal pursued a career as a singer; he met his wife when they were taking lessons from the same vocal coach, he regularly performed with a choral group that once appeared at Carnegie Hall, and in 1962 cut a novelty single called "Man in Space" that was unfortunately released just as the Cuban missile crisis was dominating the minds of America. Eventually, Kristal moved into the business side of music, helping to manage the legendary New York jazz club the Village Vanguard, and when he developed a passion for acoustic music, he opened a club called Hilly's on the Bowery devoted to country, bluegrass, and blues; in late 1973 the club was renamed for his initial booking policy -- CBGB. However, when an offbeat guitar band called Television who rehearsed nearby stopped by the club in early 1974 and asked for a gig, Kristal gave them a shot, and soon a number of other maverick rock & roll acts followed them to the tiny Bowery dive. As punk rock became a media sensation, CBGB was hailed as its home base in New York, and Kristal earned the loyalty of the bands he featured by paying them fairly, maintaining one of New York's best sound systems, and offering encouragement even when he didn't quite understand (or even enjoy) what the new bands were up to. Kristal became manager of two of the club's regular attractions, the Dead Boys and the Shirts, and created a production company that put together the flawed but well-intended album Live at CBGB's. Over the years, Kristal would expand his Bowery empire to include an art gallery, a secondary venue for poetry and experimental music, an Internet radio outlet, an independent record label, and even a pizza joint, but CBGB itself changed little, maintaining a funky atmosphere, keeping the cover charge low, and booking acts both well-known and thoroughly obscure. In 1999, Kristal took another stab at music, recording an amiably eccentric independent album of original songs called Mad Mordechai. After the turn of the century, Kristal launched a successful business selling CBGB T-shirts and trinkets that earned him a small fortune after many years of financial struggle, but despite this his club was nearing the end of its run. In 1993, the Bowery Residents' Committee, a non-profit firm, bought the building housing CBGB (Kristal had been unable to raise the cash to buy it himself), and by many accounts the relationship between BRC and Kristal was not cordial. After a rent dispute brought the two parties to court, BRC opted not to renew Kristal's lease on the space, and CBGB hosted its final shows in October 2006. By that time, Kristal had been diagnosed with lung cancer, and while he had pledged to reopen CBGB in a new location -- possibly in Las Vegas -- he didn't live long enough to see it happen; cancer claimed his life on August 28, 2007.
Hilly Kristal (September 23, 1931 – August 28, 2007) was an American club owner and musician who was the owner of the iconic New York City club, CBGB, which opened in 1973 and closed in 2006 over a rent dispute.
Early years 
Kristal was born in New York, New York in 1931, but his family moved to Hightstown, New Jersey when he was an infant. He studied music from a young age and eventually attended the Settlement Music School in Philadelphia. Kristal also spent a period of time in the Marines.
Venturing into music 
He moved back to New York City, where he worked as a singer, appearing on stage in the men's choral group at Radio City Music Hall. He later became the manager of the Village Vanguard, a jazz club in Greenwich Village, where he booked Miles Davis and other musicians.
He married in 1951 and had two children: Lisa Kristal Burgman and Mark Dana Kristal.
In 1966 he and Ron Delsener co-founded the Central Park Music Festival, sponsored by Rheingold beer, By 1968, Delsener had changed beer sponsors to Schaefer and Kristal was no longer involved. The festival took place every year until 1976 in Central Park and featured superstars from all music genres, including The Who, Miles Davis, Chuck Berry, Bob Marley, B.B. King, Led Zeppelin, The Beach Boys, Frank Zappa, Ray Charles, Patti LaBelle, Ike & Tina Turner, Fleetwood Mac, The Allman Brothers, Slade, Kris Kristofferson, Curtis Mayfield, Bruce Springsteen, Aerosmith and The Doors.
In 1970 Kristal opened a bar in the Bowery section of New York called "Hilly's on the Bowery", which closed within a couple of years. Then in December 1973, he created "CBGB and OMFUG", an abbreviation for the kinds of music he intended to feature there (the letters stood for "Country, BlueGrass, Blues and Other Music For Uplifting Gormandizers"). The club, eventually called simply CBGB, became known as the starting point for the careers of such punk rock and New Wave acts as The Ramones, Talking Heads, Patti Smith, Television, and Blondie.
CBGB featured many famous musicians over the years and remained very popular until its closing in 2006 over a rent dispute. For a short while after the closing, Kristal considered moving the club to Las Vegas.
Kristal died on August 28, 2007 from complications of lung cancer, aged 75.