Jann Wenner booted from Rock Hall board after comments about black, female musicians

Jann Wenner was removed from the board of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation on Saturday, a day after the Rolling Stone co-founder’s controversial comments about Black and female musicians.

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Wenner, 77, who helped create the foundation in 1997 and was its chairman until 2020, was removed after an interview with The New York Times was widely criticized as being racist and sexist.

The foundation inducts artists into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and helped spearhead the creation of the Hall’s museum in Cleveland, the Times reported.

Wenner’s interview, published Friday, was to promote his new book, “The Masters,” according to The Hollywood Reporter. The book features interviews with rock ‘n’ roll legends such as John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen, Jerry Garcia, Pete Townshend and Bono, the entertainment news website reported.

The book does not include interviews with Black or female musicians, according to Variety.

Asked by the Times why no women were included in the book, Wenner said, “Just none of them were as articulate enough on this intellectual level.”

“It’s not that they’re inarticulate, although, go have a deep conversation with Grace Slick or Janis Joplin. Please, be my guest,” Wenner told the newspaper. “You know, Joni (Mitchell) was not a philosopher of rock ‘n’ roll. She didn’t, in my mind, meet that test. Not by her work, not by other interviews she did. The people I interviewed were the kind of philosophers of rock.”

Commenting about Black artists, Wenner said that Stevie Wonder was a “genius.”

“I suppose when you use a word as broad as ‘masters,’ the fault is using that word,” Wenner told the Times. “Maybe Marvin Gaye, or Curtis Mayfield? I mean, they just didn’t articulate at that level.”

Wenner said he based his assertions on his own intuition, by reading interviews and listening to music, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

“I mean, look at what Pete Townshend was writing about, or Jagger, or any of them,” he continued. “They were deep things about a particular generation, a particular spirit and a particular attitude about rock ‘n’ roll. Not that the others weren’t, but these were the ones that could really articulate it.”

Wenner said his selection for his book was “intuitive.”

“It was what I was interested in. You know, just for public relations sake, maybe I should have gone and found one Black and one woman artist to include here that didn’t measure up to that same historical standard, just to avert this kind of criticism,” Wenner told the Times. “Which, I get it. I had a chance to do that. Maybe I’m old-fashioned and I don’t give a (expletive) or whatever. I wish in retrospect I could have interviewed Marvin Gaye. Maybe he’d have been the guy. Maybe Otis Redding, had he lived, would have been the guy.”

Joel Peresman, the president and chief executive of the foundation, declined to comment further when reached by telephone, Variety reported.

On Saturday night, Wenner issued an apology through his publisher, Little, Brown and Company, Variety reported.

“In my interview with The New York Times I made comments that diminished the contributions, genius and impact of Black and women artists and I apologize wholeheartedly for those remarks,” Wenner said. “‘The Masters’ is a collection of interviews I’ve done over the years, that seemed to me to best represent an idea of rock ‘n’ roll’s impact on my world; they were not meant to represent the whole of music and its diverse and important originators but to reflect the high points of my career and interviews I felt illustrated the breadth and experience in that career.

“They don’t reflect my appreciation and admiration for myriad totemic, world-changing artists whose music and ideas I revere and will celebrate and promote as long as I live. I totally understand the inflammatory nature of badly chosen words and deeply apologize and accept the consequences.”

Wenner co-founded Rolling Stone in 1967 with music critic Ralph Gleason and used the magazine to report about music, politics and current events, the Times reported.

Gleason died in 1975, and Wenner sold Rolling Stone in 2020 and officially left the magazine in 2019, according to the newspaper.

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