Dead Kennedys are an American punk rock band that formed in San Francisco, California, in 1978. The band was one of the defining punk bands during its initial eight-year run.
Dead Kennedys' lyrics were usually political in nature, satirizing political figures and authority in general, as well as popular culture and even the punk movement itself. During their initial incarnation between 1978 and 1986, they attracted considerable controversy for their provocative lyrics and artwork. Several stores refused to stock their recordings, provoking debate about censorship in rock music; in the mid-1980s, vocalist and primary lyricist Jello Biafra became an active campaigner against the Parents Music Resource Center. This culminated in an obscenity trial between 1985 and 1986, which resulted in a hung jury.
The group released a total of four studio albums and one EP before disbanding in 1986. Following the band's dissolution, Biafra continued to collaborate and record with other artists including D.O.A., NoMeansNo and his own bands Lard and the Guantanamo School of Medicine, as well as releasing several spoken word performances.
In 2000 , Biafra lost an acrimonious legal case initiated by his former Dead Kennedys bandmates over songwriting credits and unpaid royalties. In 2001, the band reformed without Biafra; various singers have since been recruited for vocal duties. Although Dead Kennedys have continued to perform live over the years, they have not released any new material since the release of their fourth studio album Bedtime for Democracy in 1986.
Dead Kennedys formed in June 1978 in San Francisco, California, when East Bay Ray advertised for bandmates in the newspaper The Recycler, after seeing a ska-punk show at Mabuhay Gardens in San Francisco. The original band lineup consisted of East Bay Ray on lead guitar, Klaus Flouride on bass, Jello Biafra on vocals, Ted on drums and 6025 on rhythm guitar. This lineup recorded their first demos. Their first live show was on July 19, 1978, at Mabuhay Gardens in San Francisco, California. They were the opening act on a bill that included DV8 and Negative Trend with The Offs headlining.
Dead Kennedys played numerous shows at local venues afterward. Due to the provocative name of the band, they sometimes played under pseudonyms, including "The DK's", "The Sharks", "The Creamsicles" and "The Pink Twinkies". San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen wrote in November 1978, "Just when you think tastelessness has reached its nadir, along comes a punk rock group called 'The Dead Kennedys', which will play at Mabuhay Gardens on Nov. 22, the 15th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination." Despite mounting protests, the owner of Mabuhay declared, "I can't cancel them NOW—there's a contract. Not, apparently, the kind of contract some people have in mind." However, despite popular belief, the name was not meant to insult the Kennedy family, but according to Ray, "the assassinations were in much more poor taste than our band. We actually respect the Kennedy family. . . . When JFK was assassinated, when Martin Luther King was assassinated, when RFK was assassinated, the American Dream was assassinated. . . . Our name is actually homage to the American Dream."