UPDATED: A day after the publication of a New York Times interview in which Rolling Stone magazine founder Jann Wenner said that Black and female musicians “didn’t articulate at the level” of the white musicians featured in his new book of interviews, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced that he has been removed from its board of directors.
“Jann Wenner has been removed from the Board of Directors of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation,” a terse statement from a rep reads in full; contacted by Variety, a rep for the Hall had no further comment.
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Later on Saturday, he issued an apology through his publisher Little, Brown and Company, saying “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,” he continued, “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.”
Rolling Stone distanced itself from Wenner’s comments in a social media post on Monday: “Jann Wenner’s recent statements to the New York Times do not represent the values and practices of today’s Rolling Stone,” and notes that he has not been directly involved in its operations since 2019.
Our statement on Jann Wenner's recent comments. pic.twitter.com/dL7lMSTP3k
— Rolling Stone (@RollingStone) September 18, 2023
Wenner is a co-founder of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which was launched in 1987, and had served as its chairman until 2020. The Rock Hall Foundation and museum have separate boards, but Wenner was not on the latter board.
Reps for Wenner did not immediately respond to Variety‘s requests for comment.
Multiple sources tell Variety that Wenner’s ejection came on Saturday after a heated emergency conference call with board members — including veteran executives Irving Azoff and Doug Morris, YouTube Music chief Lyor Cohen, CAA head of music Rob Light and longtime Bruce Springsteen manager Jon Landau — in which Wenner attempted to make his case but ended up angering them instead with a “bad apology,” as described by Billboard. “He didn’t act sorry,” one source said. In the ensuing vote, sources say that only Landau — who launched his music career as a top Rolling Stone writer in the 1960s — did not vote to eject Wenner. Reps for several of the above execs did not respond to Variety‘s request for comment.
The comments came about after Times writer Dave Marchese asked why Wenner had not included any people of color or female musicians in “The Masters,” which features interviews with white, male musicians including Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia, Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, Pete Townshend and U2’s Bono, all of whom Rolling Stone had long celebrated when it was under Wenner’s editorial direction.
“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 [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,” Wenner said. “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.
“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, who founded Rolling Stone in 1967 and served as its editor or editorial director until 2019, added that he could have reconsidered his decision and “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. 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.” Not surprisingly, Wenner received a torrent of negative comments online after the interview published.
In the interview, Wenner also made several controversial comments about his own editorial policies, admitting that he’d allowed his interview subjects to edit the transcripts of their interviews with him before publication, including an explosive 1970 interview with John Lennon.
Wenner stepped down from Rolling Stone in 2019, a few months after the publication was fully acquired by Penske Media Corporation. In December 2017, PMC acquired a controlling interest in Wenner Media, parent company of Rolling Stone, at a valuation just over $100 million, according to sources close to the transaction. He remains editorial director of Wenner Media. PMC is also the parent company of Variety.
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