Photo Credit: DJ Johnson
Jann Wenner has been removed from the board of directors of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation. The removal follows Wenner’s comments in a New York Times interview.
The Cleveland mainstay issued a terse statement over the weekend on the matter. “Jann Wenner has been removed from the board of directors of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation,” the organization relayed without any specific reasons given. But the removal comes just a day after The New York Times published a piece in which Wenner made comments that were widely criticized as racist and sexist against black people and women.
The interview was published on Friday and was timed to coincide with the publication of his new book ‘The Masters.’ The book collects decades of interviews with rock legends, including Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, and Bono. The interviewer specifically asks Wenner why he chose to focus on the white male half of music.
“In the introduction, you acknowledge that performers of color and women performers are just not in your zeitgeist,” David Marchese prefaces his question. “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 others?” he posits.
“When I was referring to the zeitgeist, I was referring to black performers, not to the female performers, okay? Just to get that accurate,” Wenner begins. “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.”
Marchese admonishes Wenner and says, “I’ll let you rephrase that.” But the revised rephrasing doesn’t get much better. “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. 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.”
“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.”
The interview carries on with Marchese asking Wenner if who he included was more a reflection of his own interests, rather than an examination of the genre as the title ‘Masters’ would imply. This is when Wenner gets a little testy.
“The selection was intuitive. It was what I was interested in,” he says. “You know, just for PR 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.”
Those comments drew immediate reaction online when the interview was shared on social media. Many people began unearthing unfavorable coverage toward female artists while Rolling Stone was directed by Wenner. His publisher Little, Brown and Company released a statement by Wenner.
“In my interview with the NYT 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 the 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.”
“I totally understand the inflammatory nature of badly chosen words and deeply apologize and accept the consequences,” the statement concluded. Wenner founded Rolling Stone in 1967 and managed the music magazine until 2019 when he left. He was also a founding member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation in 1983—so the removal from the board of directors is definitely a statement.