San Francisco-based band Jefferson Airplane came to establish itself as a psychedelic unit with communal vocal harmonies and a synthesis of folk, pop, jazz, blues, and rock elements. When singer Marty Balin founded the band in 1965, they became regular performers at the Matrix club in San Francisco. The group's original lineup, which featured mainstays Jorma Kaukonen (guitar, vocals) and Paul Kantner (guitar, vocals), was fronted by singer Signe Toly (later Signe Anderson), and were signed to RCA Victor after Skip Spence and Jack Casady joined the group in 1965. Spence soon departed—he would eventually found Moby Grape—as did Anderson following the band's first record, 1966's Jefferson Airplane Takes Off. Enter Grace Slick, former singer for SF-based group the Great Society, whose contralto would be featured on the band's second album, 1967's Surrealistic Pillow, a landmark psychedelic rock record and a major turning point for the band.
That record's "Somebody to Love," penned by Slick's brother-in-law Darby, was the group's first Top 40 hit, and Grace's "White Rabbit" would reach the Top 10 just a few months later. Slick's strong voice and stage presence, as well as her good looks, helped the band's commercial appeal and its stage show. The band made extensive use of light shows at their concerts, becoming one of the first rock groups to manipulate their light show to completely support the music. Later in 1967, the band would make a famous appearance at the Monterey International Pop Festival, with two of their songs eventually featured in D.A. Pennebaker's documentary of the festival. Nationally, they became known as a central part of San Francisco's music scene, and the group's lineup would remain about the same through 1970, with Slick and Kantner figuring as the group's foremost songwriters ahead of Balin for November 1967's After Bathing at Baxter's. With Baxter's and the following few records, the band still saw high album sales, but their heavier psych sound kept them from scoring further hit singles.
The Airplane would perform a few more famous gigs, including a slot at the Woodstock festival in 1969, as well as the tragic Altamont Speedway gig in December 1969, where Balin was knocked out by one of the Hells Angels hired to be "security" at the show. Casady and Kaukonen began the blues project Hot Tuna in 1970, and though the group managed to stay together long enough to record two more LPs—1971's Bark and 1972's Long John Silver, various tensions had been splitting the group apart for its last few years. Slick and Kanter's romance, as well as Balin's departure from the band in 1971, prefaced the group's final creative difficulties, with their last release being the live Thirty Seconds Over Winterland in 1973. Slick and Kantner would form Jefferson Starship in 1974, and though Slick would retire from music after an Airplane reunion in 1989, both Jefferson Starship and Hot Tuna continue to record and perform up to the present day.