The board of directors of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has removed Jann Wenner. He is the co-founder of Rolling Stone magazine and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He faced removal for his controversial remarks about Black and female musicians. Wenner‘s comments, published in a New York Times interview on Friday, September 16, 2023, triggered a music industry and public backlash. It resulted in his removal on Saturday, September 17, 2023.
What Did Jann Wenner Say?
Wenner was promoting his new book, The Masters. It features interviews with seven artists that he considered to be the “philosophers of rock”. The book’s full title is The Masters: Conversations with Dylan, Lennon, Jagger, Townshend, Garcia, Bono, and Springsteen. All of them are white and male.
Wenner was asked by the Times why he did not include any women or Black artists in his book. He gave a dismissive and offensive answer:
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. 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.Jann Wenner, 2023
Wenner also admitted that he did not interview any women or Black artists for his book. He said this is because he did not want to face criticism for tokenism:
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.Jann Wenner, 2023
How Did the Rock Hall React?
Wenner’s comments did not sit well with the current members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation. They oversee the induction process and the museum. A vote was taken to remove Wenner from the board of directors, which he co-founded in 1987. Bruce Springsteen’s manager, Jon Landau, was reportedly the only one who voted against Wenner’s removal.
The hall issued a statement on Saturday announcing Wenner’s departure from the board. It said:
Jann Wenner has been removed from the Board of Directors of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation.
The statement did not mention the reason for Wenner’s removal or who would replace him on the board.
What Was the Response from the Music Industry and the Public?
Wenner’s comments provoked a strong reaction from many musicians and music fans. They felt that he had disrespected and disregarded the contributions and impact of Black and female artists to rock and roll history. Some of them took to social media to express their outrage and disappointment.
Many music fans also expressed their anger and disbelief at Wenner’s comments. Some of them pointed out that Rolling Stone magazine had ranked several albums by Black and female artists among its 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list in 2020. Others noted that Wenner had contradicted his own previous statements and actions regarding Black and female musicians.
What Did Jann Wenner Do After His Removal?
Wenner did not comment publicly on his removal from the board until Sunday, September 18, 2023. He issued an apology statement through his publisher, Little, Brown and Company:
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 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.Jann Wenner, 2023
However, Wenner’s apology did not seem to appease many of his critics, who felt that it was too little, too late and insincere. Some of them questioned his sincerity and credibility as a music journalist and a rock historian. Others suggested that he should donate the proceeds from his book to organizations that support Black and female musicians.
What Does This Mean for the Future of the Rock Hall?
Wenner’s removal from the board marks a significant change in the leadership and direction of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Wenner had been one of the most influential and powerful figures in the hall since its inception. He had a major role in deciding who gets nominated and inducted into the hall each year. He also had a strong influence on the hall’s vision and mission.
Wenner’s departure could open up more opportunities for diversity and inclusion in the hall. It could also pave the way for more recognition and representation of Black and female artists who have shaped and defined rock and roll music. Furthermore, it could stimulate increased discussion and deliberation regarding the definition of rock and roll and the individuals deserving of recognition by the hall.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has faced criticism for its lack of diversity and inclusion for years. Many Black and female artists have been snubbed or overlooked by the hall despite their achievements and influence.
The hall has made some efforts to address its diversity and inclusion issues in recent years. For example, in 2020, it announced that it would increase its number of nominees from 15 to 20 each year to create more opportunities for different genres and eras. It also said that it would diversify its nominating committee to include more women, people of color and younger voices.
However, there is still room for improvement for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to become more diverse and inclusive. Many eligible and deserving Black and female artists remain unacknowledged and uninducted into the hall. The hall has also inadequately represented numerous genres and subgenres within rock and roll.
The Bottom Line
The hall has a responsibility and an opportunity to celebrate and educate the public about the rich and diverse history and culture of rock and roll music. It should honor and acknowledge the artists who have created, innovated and influenced rock and roll music across different genres, eras, regions and backgrounds. It should also reflect and respond to the changing tastes and preferences of the music fans and the society at large.
Jann Wenner’s removal from the board could be a turning point for the hall to become more diverse and inclusive. It could also be a wake-up call for Rolling Stones‘ Wenner to rethink his views and values on rock and roll music. Wenner has been a pioneer and a leader in the music journalism and the rock hall for decades. He has also been a fan and a friend of many rock legends. He has a lot of knowledge and experience to share and contribute to the music world. However, he also needs to learn and listen to the voices and perspectives of other artists and fans. Especially those who have different opinions and experiences than him.
Rock and roll music is not a monolith. It is a mosaic of sounds, styles, stories and sentiments that reflect the diversity and dynamism of human creativity and expression. Rock and roll music finds its definition not through one person, group, or criterion but through the collective contributions of those who create it, appreciate it, hold it dear, and live it. Jann Wenner removal from the Rock Hall of Fame board is not the end of his story or his legacy. It is also a chance for him to grow and evolve as a music lover and a music maker.