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Who is Jann Wenner? Rolling Stone co-founder faces controversy for comments about Black and women musicians

Wenner was recently removed from the board of directors of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation following comments he made to The New York Times.
/ Source: TODAY

Jann Wenner is facing backlash after making controversial comments about women and Black musicians.

The Rolling Stone magazine co-founder, 77, was removed from the board of directors of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation, an organization he co-founded in 1983, on Sept. 16, one day after The New York Times published an interview with Wenner to promote his upcoming book, “The Masters.”

Wenner's book contains interviews he conducted over the years with seven legendary rock 'n' roll artists, including Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and John Lennon.

Mick Jagger and Jann Wenner
Publisher Jann Wenner, right, with Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger in an undated photo.Kevin Mazur / WireImage for Atlantic Records

When the Times asked Wenner why the book focused exclusively on white men and featured no interviews with women musicians and/or musicians of color, the famed publisher responded by saying the book's subjects had to meet certain "criteria."

Read on to learn more about Wenner's controversial comments.

Who is Jann Wenner?

Jann Wenner co-founded Rolling Stone magazine with journalist Ralph J. Gleason in San Francisco in 1967. He later co-founded Outside magazine in 1977.

Wenner remained at Rolling Stone, once considered the bible of the hippie counterculture movement before it shifted to an entertainment magazine, until 2019.

The publishing giant shares three children with his husband, fashion designer Matt Nye, and three sons with his ex-wife, Jane, according to The Wall Street Journal.

What did Wenner say about 'articulate' musicians?

During an interview with New York Times reporter David Marchese published Sept. 15, Wenner was asked why he didn't feature interviews with women musicians or musicians of color in "The Masters."

“The people had to meet a couple criteria, but it was just kind of my personal interest and love of them," Wenner said. "Insofar as the women, just none of them were as articulate enough on this intellectual level."

When Marchese pushed back, insisting that Joni Mitchell, for one, was articulate enough to discuss music, Wenner doubled down.

"It’s not that they’re not creative geniuses. It’s not that they’re inarticulate, although, go have a deep conversation with Grace Slick or Janis Joplin. Please, be my guest," he said. "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."

Wenner went on to suggest that no Black recording artists met his criteria either.

"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," he said.

Wenner, who seemed to anticipate that he would be criticized for his comments, added, "You know, 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. 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."

What was the response to Wenner's comments?

Wenner's comments to the Times were roundly criticized by celebrities and music critics on social media.

Hip-hop historian Nelson George called Wenner's remarks "racist" and "sexist" in a video.

George referred to a letter he wrote to Rolling Stone in the 1980s, which he features in his new book, "The Nelson George Mixtape, Volume 2," calling out the publication's dismissal of rap music.

He went on to say Wenner's "condescending and stupid" comments to the Times "reflect a continuum of thought" that defined his magazine's music coverage.

Evelyn McDonnell, a Loyola Marymount University journalism professor who has written extensively about music, gender and politics, said on Facebook that Wenner's "decades of sexism and racism" have "resulted in so many false 'master' narratives about music history."

How did the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame respond to Wenner's comments?

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation, which Wenner helped co-found in 1983, announced on Sept. 16 that it had removed Wenner from its board of directors.

Did Rolling Stone magazine chime in?

On Sept. 18, Rolling Stone magazine posted a statement about Wenner's comments to X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter.

"Jann Wenner’s recent statements to the New York Times do not represent the values and practices of today’s Rolling Stone,” the statement read.

“Jann Wenner has not been directly involved in our operations since 2019. Our purpose, especially since his departure, has been to tell stories that reflect the diversity of voices and experiences that shape our world,” it added. “At Rolling Stone’s core is the understanding that music above all can bring us together, not divide us.”

Wenner’s son Gus Wenner became the CEO of Rolling Stone magazine in 2022.

Did Wenner apologize for his remarks?

Wenner released a statement on Sept. 16 apologizing 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 the statement.

Wenner added that his upcoming book was “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.”

He added that he admired many “world-changing artists” not featured in the book and “will celebrate and promote (them) as long as I live.”

"I totally understand the inflammatory nature of badly chosen words and deeply apologize and accept the consequences," he added.