Jann Wenner Kicked Out of Rock Hall Board Following Controversial Comments About Black + Female Artists

Jann Wenner: © 2022 Larry D. Moore, CC BY 4.0, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/deed.en, Wikimedia Commons / Rock Hall: Christina Spicuzza, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en, Wikimedia Commons
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Following controversial comments he made about Black and female artists, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has kicked out Jann Wenner from its Board of Directors. Prior to his work with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Wenner co-founded Rolling Stone in 1967.

Wenner’s controversial comments were expressed in a recent interview with The New York Times, the story having been published this past Friday (September 15th). The interview revolves around Wenner and his upcoming book, The Masters. The book features an array of interviews with different artists he’s spoken to throughout his career, including such folks as Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Bono, and others.

While discussing the book, journalist David Marchese brings up to Wenner how all the interviews in The Masters involve white men. Regarding this, Marchese asks Wenner:

“In the introduction, you acknowledge that performers of color and women performers are just not in your zeitgeist. Which to my mind is not plausible for Jann Wenner. Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Nicks, Stevie Wonder, the list keeps going — not in your zeitgeist? What do you think is the deeper explanation for why you interviewed the subjects you interviewed and not other subjects?”

In response to this, Wenner says, “When I was referring to the zeitgeist, I was referring to Black performers, not to the female performers, OK? Just to get that accurate. The selection was not a deliberate selection. It was kind of intuitive over the years; it just fell together that way. The people had to meet a couple criteria, but it was just kind of my personal interest and love of them. Insofar as the women, just none of them were as articulate enough on this intellectual level.”

This reply catches Marchese by surprise, who says back to Wenner, “Oh, stop it. You’re telling me Joni Mitchell is not articulate enough on an intellectual level?”

Marchese allows Wenner to rephrase his response, to which Wenner then replies with:

“It’s not that they’re not creative geniuses. It’s not that they’re inarticulate, although, go have a deep conversation with Grace Slick or Janis Joplin. Please, be my guest. You know, Joni 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.”

Wenner then goes on to address his exclusion of Black artists from his book:

“Of Black artists — you know, Stevie Wonder, genius, right? I suppose when you use a word as broad as ‘masters,’ the fault is using that word. Maybe Marvin Gaye, or Curtis Mayfield? I mean, they just didn’t articulate at that level.”

In response to this, Marchese asks, “How do you know if you didn’t give them a chance?”

Wenner says back to the journalist, “Because I read interviews with them. I listen to their music. I mean, look at what Pete Townshend was writing about, or Jagger, or any of them. 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 goes on to say, “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.” He adds, “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.”

Following his controversial comments, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced that they had kicked Wenner out of their Board of Directors. Per a statement from the foundation (as shared by Billboard):

“Jann Wenner has been removed from the Board of Directors of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation.”

After the Rock Hall announced that he was removed from their board, Wenner issued an apology statement, via The Hollywood Reporter. You can read the entirety of that statement below:

“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. 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 it’s 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.”