Jann Wenner, founder of Rolling Stone and co-founder of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, has apologized for his disparaging comments about black and female artists, calling them less intellectually articulate than their white counterparts.
The 77-year-old’s statements – made in an interview published Friday by The New York Times in which he explained why he only included white rock artists, whom he dubbed the “philosophers of rock”, in a book compiling his interviews — led to a unanimous vote removing Wenner from the Hall of Fame board.
Wenner’s interviews in his book The Masters offer the perspectives of musicians such as Bono, Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia, Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen and Pete Townshend – all of whom are white men.
He told the Times that the selection “was not a deliberate selection… in that the women, none of them were as articulate enough on that intellectual level.”
He also said that black artists of the time were not “in tune with the times.”
“Black artists – you know, Stevie Wonder, a genius, right? I guess when you use a word as broad as ‘masters,’ the fault is using that word,” Wenner said. “Maybe Marvin Gaye or Curtis Mayfield? I mean, they just haven’t expressed themselves at that level.
Wenner sought to repair the damage caused by a series of apologies over the weekend, including one through his publisher, Little, Brown and Company, in which he said: “I apologize for everything heart for these remarks. »
He added that his choice of interviews included in the book “does not reflect my appreciation and admiration for a myriad of totemic, world-changing artists whose music and ideas I revere and whom I will celebrate and promote for as long as I will live. I fully understand the inflammatory nature of the poorly chosen words, I deeply apologize and accept the consequences.
Yet not only did he lose his place on the board of directors of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. On Sunday, an appearance at the Montclair, New Jersey, literary festival scheduled for later in the month was canceled.
Wenner founded Rolling Stone in 1967 and served as its editor or editorial director until 2019. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a non-performer in 2004 after helping to launch it in 1983.
But the organization was often seen as a closed shop excluding musicians who didn’t meet the criteria of white rock and as a less-than-hip celebration for industry-friendly musicians and industry suits.
The organization’s president since 2020, John Sykes, sought to change that. “Rock is part of rock ‘n’ roll, but rock ‘n’ roll has never been a single sound,” he recently told Billboard. “It was an amalgamation of R&B, gospel and country.”
This year’s inductees include Missy Elliott, the Spinners, Willie Nelson and Rage Against the Machine. “I really didn’t change the rules. I came back and followed them,” Sykes said.
Sykes told the publication that before 2019, about 14 to 15 percent of inductees were women. Over the past five years, this figure has reached almost 25%. “We’re not there yet, but we’re seeing the inductee class evolve not only in sound but also in genre,” Sykes said.
But Wenner’s comments left a stain. Joe Hagan – who wrote Sticky Fingers, a critical but authoritative biography of Wenner that provoked a bitter argument between the author and his subject – posted a comment on by feminist critic Ellen Willis, who refused to write for Rolling Stone, calling it “viciously anti-woman.”
Rolling Stone “usually refers to women as girls and treats us like girls, which is to say, pretty fucking interchangeable machines,” Willis’s comment read. Willis, writing in 1970, also said that Wenner’s prejudice against revolutionary politics fueled the oppression of women.
“To me, when a bunch of arrogant, upper-middle-class white men start telling me that politics isn’t where it’s at, it’s just an attempt to defend their privilege. What they want is more bread and circuses,” she wrote.
In the Times interview, Wenner seemed to acknowledge that he would face backlash. He remarked, “Just for PR reasons, maybe I should have found a black artist and a woman to include here who didn’t meet the same historical standards, just to avoid that kind of criticism.” »