Rolling Stone founder apologises for ‘inflammatory’ comments about Black and female musicians

Jann Wenner apologises for calling Black and female artists not 'articulate enough' to interview

Jann Wenner, the co-founder of Rolling Stone Magazine, has issued an apology for saying Black and female musicians aren’t “articulate” enough to be included in his all-white male interview collection The Masters.

The apology, released by his book publisher on Saturday (16 September), came hours after Wenner was removed from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation board of directors – an institution he helped co-found in the 1980s.

Wenner made the controversial statements in an interview with The New York Times on Friday (15 September), where his discussed his interview collection, made up of “philosophers of rock” such as Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Mick Jagger.

“I made comments that diminished the contributions, genius and impact of Black and women artists and I apologise wholeheartedly for those remarks,” Wanner said.

He continued: “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.”

He continued: “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.

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“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 apologise and accept the consequences.”

Erasing female artists ‘not deliberate’

In The New York Times article, interviewer David Marchese challenged the 77-year-old media magnate’s exclusion of Black and female performers such as Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Nicks, Stevie Wonder, Carole King and Madonna from his new book.

Wanner argued that the erasure of female artists was not “deliberate” but “just fell together that way”.

“The people had to meet a couple criteria,” he continued, “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 caveated that while there are women who are “creative geniuses” and “not inarticulate”, performers such as Joni Mitchell simply did “not meet that test. Not by her work, not by other interviews she did” as being a “philosopher of rock ‘n’ roll”.

Join Mitchell (L) and Stevie Wonder (R) were two artists Jenn Wenner chose not to include.
Joni Mitchell (L) and Stevie Wonder (R) were two artists Jann Wenner chose not to include. (Getty)

He added: “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 [late groundbreaking Black artists]? I mean, they just didn’t articulate at that level.”

According to Wanner, musicians such as Pete Townshend and Jagger were writing about “deep things” on “a particular generation, a particular spirit and a particular attitude about rock ’n’ roll” in a style other artists couldn’t “articulate” in the same way.

The insensitive remarks were compounded further in the interview as he shared that he should have found one Black and one female artist to interview for “public relations sakes” even if they didn’t “measure up to that same historical standard” so that he could “avert this kind of criticism”.

Despite his apology, social media users have shared their dismay at Wenner’s comments and labelled them racist and misogynistic.

“The founder of a magazine dedicated to writing about a genre of music created and pioneered by black people, doesn’t think they’re articulate enough to speak on his level musically,” one user wrote. “Let’s also note that Jann Wenner has literally never created a song in his f**kin life.”

“This is the most stunning admission of covert racism and sexism I’ve ever heard,” another echoed. “That he didn’t find artists like Joni Mitchell or Stevie Wonder ‘articulate’ enough to consider them masters is actually insane.”