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Jann Wenner removed from Rock Hall of Fame board after interview

Jann Wenner, co-founder of Rolling Stone magazine, has been removed from the board of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation, which he helped found, one day after an interview with him was published in The New York Times in which he made comments that were widely criticized as sexist and racist.

The foundation — which inducts artists into the hall of fame and was the organization behind the creation of its affiliated museum in Cleveland — made the announcement in a brief statement released Saturday.

“Jann Wenner has been removed from the board of directors of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation,” the statement said. Joel Peresman, president and CEO of the foundation, declined to comment further when reached by phone.

But the dismissal of Wenner comes after an interview with the Times, published Friday and timed to the publication of his new book, called “The Masters,” which collects his decades of interviews with rock legends such as Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen and Bono — all of them white and male.

In the interview, David Marchese of the Times asked Wenner, 77, why the book included no women or people of color.

Regarding women, Wenner said, “Just none of them were as articulate enough on this intellectual level,” and he remarked that Joni Mitchell “was not a philosopher of rock ‘n’ roll.”

His answer about artists of color was less direct. “Of Black artists — you know, Stevie Wonder, genius, right?” he said. “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’s comments drew an immediate reaction, with his quotes mocked on social media and past criticisms unearthed of Rolling Stone’s coverage of female artists under Wenner.

Joe Hagan, who in 2017 wrote a harshly critical biography of Wenner, “Sticky Fingers,” cited a comment by feminist critic Ellen Willis, who in 1970 called the magazine “viciously anti-woman.”

In a statement issued late Saturday by a representative for Little, Brown and Co., the publisher of his book, Wenner said: “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.”

Wenner founded Rolling Stone in 1967 with music critic Ralph J. Gleason and made it the preeminent music magazine of its time, with deep coverage of rock music as well as politics and current events. Much of it was written by stars of the “new journalism” movement of the 1960s and ’70s such as Hunter S. Thompson. Gleason died in 1975.

Wenner sold the magazine over a series of transactions completed in 2020, and he officially left it in 2019. Last year, he published a memoir, “Like a Rolling Stone.”

Wenner was also part of a group of music and media executives that founded the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation in 1983, and inducted its first class in 1986; its affiliated museum, in Cleveland, opened in 1995. Wenner was inducted in 2004 as a nonperformer.

The hall of fame has been criticized for the relative few women and minority artists who have been inducted over the years. According to one scholar, by 2019 just 7.7% of the individuals in the hall were women. But some critics have applauded recent changes, and the newest class of inductees includes Kate Bush, Sheryl Crow and Missy Elliott, along with George Michael, Willie Nelson, Rage Against the Machine and the Spinners.


This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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