Jefferson Airplane: History, Members & Songs

Instructor: Colleen Cleveland

Colleen has taught college level Game Development and Graphic Design and has a Master's in Interactive Entertainment and Masters in Media Psychology.

This lesson documents the journey of the band, Jefferson Airplane during the era of Vietnam, civil rights, and the psychedelic movement. Here, we will investigate the emergence, life span, and dissolution of Jefferson Airplane.

Forming the Band

With its roots originally in folk music, Jefferson Airplane's sound was central in creating what is now known as psychedelic rock. Psychedelic rock is rock music influenced by the mind-altering drug culture very prevalent during the 1960s and early 1970s.

The band got its start in 1965 in the city of San Francisco, California, when Marty Balin, a fledgling singer, began his search in forming a band to play in his club. Balin had a chance meeting with folk musician Paul Kantner and the two set off on a mission to recruit. One by one, through word of mouth, friends came together. In a tribute to the band Blind Lemon Jefferson, the name Jefferson Airplane was born.

Career Highlights

Though the band signed a music deal with RCA Victor, it wasn't until the introduction of Grace Slick as lead vocalist that the songs brought national attention to the band. 'White Rabbit' and 'Somebody to Love' off their second LP Surrealistic Pillow both hit in the Top 10 Billboard charts. However, 'White Rabbit' became the signature theme for the band as well as the psychedelic movement. The band's music career extended into key music festivals, such as the Monterey International. Jefferson Airplane was also asked to make appearances on popular television shows, such as the Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and The Smothers Brothers. In the summer of 1969, Jefferson Airplane performed onstage at the famed Woodstock in the early morning hours.


In the 1970s, Jefferson Airplane began to decline, not in popularity, but in upheaval among their members. Despite the inevitable, the band continued to tour and released their compilation album, The Worst of Jefferson Airplane. Wanting more control over their work, Jefferson Airplane left RCA and put out a single at Grunt Records. However, by this time, the band members were breaking out into solo careers. In 1972, the Winterland festival in San Francisco was to be Jefferson Airplane's last live performance of the decade.

In 1989, members of Jefferson Airplane reunited for a reunion tour and released a self-titled album. However, it wasn't until 1996 that Jefferson Airplane would come together one final time to be honored with induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame .


Jefferson Airplane had a revolving door of individuals that were introduced to the band and only played a short time over the band's life span. None, perhaps, were as noteworthy as Grace Slick, the lead contralto singer of Jefferson Airplane who took over for Anderson in 1966.

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