Rolling Stone Founder Jann Wenner Kicked Off Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation Board After Criticizing Black and Women Musicians

“I made comments that diminished the contributions, genius and impact of Black and women artists,” he acknowledged in an apology

An older white man stands licking his lips, wearing a tux, at a mic on a podium, on a modern-looking large stage.
Jann Wenner at the 2013 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony (Getty Images)

Jann Wenner might be the founder of Rolling Stone magazine, but he’s no longer on the board of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation after contentious comments he made about Black and female musicians. While speaking to the New York Times, Wenner, who also helped to found the foundation, explained that it’s his opinion that these artists do not “articulate at the level” of white (and presumably male) musicians.

In response, a representative for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame released a statement on Saturday that said, “Jann Wenner has been removed from the Board of Directors of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation.” They also noted that it’s a separate board for the foundation versus the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum, but Wenner was not on the museum’s board.

Later on Saturday, Wenner issued an apology through his publisher Little Brown.

“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,” he said.

“‘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.”

In his initial comments, Wenner was defending why he didn’t include any women or Black musicians in his new interview book, “The Masters.”

“It’s not that they’re not creative geniuses,” Wenner told the Times. “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.”

He followed that by saying, “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.”

Instead, Wenner included interviews he’s conducted over the years with artists such as Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger and Bruce Springsteen — musicians that he also has close friendships with. As he said, “I mean, the example of Mick Jagger — he just didn’t give interviews to anybody, and he still doesn’t. It’s because we were friends, I got him to do it. I had a particular kind of relationship with Bob Dylan. Jerry Garcia, we were old buddies from years ago. So, it really works.”

Wenner also allowed some artists, such as Bono, to edit their own interview transcripts, a practice that he’s used for decades (he admitted that John Lennon edited his 1970 interview in which he offered his unfiltered feelings about The Beatles).

That Wenner chose to interview a number of artists he considers close friends and then allowed those artists to edit what they said raises editorial flags; chief among them, it’s impossible to portray any of the interviews in “The Masters” as reflective of what was said in the room. Additionally, it’s difficult for Wenner to maintain any semblance of journalistic objectivity, though he makes it clear that he isn’t bothered by that.

The integrity of Rolling Stone has been questioned over the years, something the Times makes sure to point out. But to that end, Wenner simply explained, “I confess: I probably went too far. So what? I’m entitled.”