Rolling Stone co-founder Jann Wenner has issued an apology following controversial comments he made about Black and female musicians being not “articulate” enough to be included in his new book.
The apology came Saturday night, a few hours after the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation announced he was being removed from his position on the board of directors.
In an interview with The New York Times — which was published online Friday, to promote his new book, The Masters — Wenner said he didn’t include interviews with Black and female musicians in his book because they aren’t “articulate” enough. On Saturday, he said he apologized “wholeheartedly” for his comments.
“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 in a statement given to The Hollywood Reporter. “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.”
Wenner’s book features interviews with such rock legends as Bono, Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia, Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen and Pete Townshend. However, it does not include any interviews with Black or female musicians.
Asked by The Times how he chose the musicians to feature, Wenner replied: “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,” he said.
The Times reporter David Marchese, a onetime online editor at Rolling Stone, pushed back on that claim by citing Joni Mitchell.
“It’s not that they’re not creative geniuses,” Wenner replied. “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. 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.”
Wenner said he based his assertion on his own intuition and by reading interviews and listening to music.
“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 went on to acknowledge that he could have included a Black musician and a female musician “just for public relations sake” to avoid criticism.
“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 said. “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 long after the story was published Friday many readers — including journalists — criticized Wenner on social media for his comments.
On Saturday, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame announced Wenner’s removal from the board with the following simple statement: “Jann Wenner has been removed from the Board of Directors of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation.”
Wenner led Rolling Stone for five decades before stepping away in 2019. He also is a co-founder of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Julian Sancton contributed to this report.