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Jann Wenner Ousted From Rock and Roll Hall of Fame After Racist, Sexist Remarks

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Jann Wenner, the co-founder of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and longtime publisher of Rolling Stone magazine, was removed from the Rock Hall board of directors after blowback from his comments to the New York Times intensified over the weekend.

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation confirmed Wenner’s ouster in a statement released on Saturday, following widely disseminated interview excerpts in which Wenner appeared to disparage the contributions of Black and female rock artists.

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Jann Wenner has maintained close relationships with rock royalty like Bono and Robert Plant during his leadership of Rolling Stone and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Speaking to the Times’ David Marchese to promote his upcoming book, The Masters, which collects Wenner’s wide-ranging interviews with rock luminaries such as Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen, and Bono, Wenner was asked why all seven figures featured in his book were white men. Initially describing his selection process as “intuitive” and based on his “personal interest and love of [his subjects],” Wenner went on to opine that there were no women who were “articulate enough on this intellectual level” to merit inclusion in his book.

Pressed on this point by the interviewer, Wenner proceeded to casually disparage the likes of Janis Joplin, Grace Slick, and Joni Mitchell, the latter of whom he described as “not a philosopher of rock ’n’ roll” in the same way he considered Jagger and Pete Townshend to be.

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In a New York Times interview, Wenner implied female rock musicians Joni Mitchell, Grace Slick, and Janis Joplin were less articulate than their male counterparts.

As the exchange grew slightly heated, Wenner added: “Maybe I should have gone back and found one Black and one woman artist to include here who didn’t measure up to that historical standard, just to avert this kind of criticism.” He also mentioned the long-deceased likes of Marvin Gaye and Otis Redding as examples of Black artists who conceivably could have been included in this book, were they still alive. (Gaye was murdered in 1984, and Redding perished in a plane crash in 1967, just one month after Wenner published the first issue of Rolling Stone.)

Excerpted on social media by music critic Jody Rosen, Wenner’s comments quickly caught fire. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, which Wenner co-founded in 1983, has long been subject to criticism over its arm’s-length treatment of many Black and female artists, with many observers penning the blame on Wenner’s institutional influence. Donna Summer, for example, was passed over for inclusion in the Rock Hall on four separate occasions, only to be finally inducted after her death, a move Elton John called “a total disgrace.” Rolling Stone has also been criticized by many over the decades for promoting a largely white- and male-centric vision of musical genius during Wenner’s long reign atop the masthead.

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As Wenner’s comments spread over the weekend, criticism poured in from the likes of Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid, while renowned hip-hop scholar Nelson George recorded a video in which he read aloud from a letter he’d written to Rolling Stone in the 1980s, slamming the magazine’s ignorance of hip-hop. Longtime music journalist Ann Powers shared an anecdote in which Wenner edited her Rolling Stone profile of Joan Osbourne to emphasize salaciousness and sex appeal at the expense of her artistry.

Following his ouster from the Rock Hall, Wenner released an apology through his publisher, saying: “I totally understand the inflammatory nature of badly chosen words and deeply apologize and accept the consequences.” On Monday, Rolling Stone released a statement condemning Wenner’s comments, adding: “Jann Wenner has not been directly involved in our operations since 2019.” (Wenner sold a controlling stake in Rolling Stone to Penske Media Group in 2019. His son, Gus Wenner, is still on the magazine’s board.)

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