Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner was given a final chance to explain himself to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation on Saturday (Sept. 16) during an emergency conference call before he was voted off the organization’s board of directors. But instead of quelling outrage at comments he made regarding female and black artists in a New York Times interview that ran Friday Friday, the 77-year-old media icon angered longtime allies on the board with his “bad apology,” sources tell Billboard.
In the New York Times piece, Wenner said women and Black artists didn’t “articulate” on a high enough level in his interviews with them to be included in his new book The Masters — a book consisting of his interviews with the likes of Bono, Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia, Mick Jagger, John Lennon and Pete Townshend during his time at Rolling Stone. An emergency meeting was called with the board’s high-profile music industry executives dialing in, including Youtube global head of music Lyor Cohen, music manager and executive Irving Azoff and former chairman and CEO of Universal Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment Doug Morris, as Wenner made a “self-serving” and poorly articulated attempt to explain himself, according to a source.
Underwhelmed by Wenner’s Mea culpa, board members like Rob Light, managing partner and head of the music at Creative Artists Agency, lambasted Wenner’s conduct and eventually a vote was held. Every board member on the call voted to end Wenner’s tenure with one exception — music manager Jon Landau, who cast the single no vote. (Landau was formerly a music critic, who wrote in Rolling Stone’s inaugural issue and for years following.) After a few quick remarks, the meeting was adjourned, and a press release was quickly drafted to announce the decision. Landau and Light did not respond to request for comment.
“Jann Wenner has been removed from the Board of Directors of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation,” read the press release. No more information was given.
Wenner’s controversial statements to The New York Times were made when asked why the book does not feature any interviews with people of color or female musicians. Wenner notes in his introduction that neither are in his “zeitgeist.”
“When I was referring to the zeitgeist, I was referring to Black performers, not to the female performers, OK? Just to get that accurate,” Wenner told the Times’ David Marchese. “The people had to meet a couple criteria, 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.”
Speaking on Black artists, Wenner said “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.”
Wenner helped found the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1983 with Atlantic Records founder and chairman Ahmet Ertegun, as well as record executives Seymour Stein, Bob Krasnow and Noreen Woods, and attorneys Allen Grubman and Suzan Evans.
He was was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a non-performer in 2004 and served as chairman from 2006 through 2020. Wenner left Rolling Stone in 2019 when the publication was acquired by Penske Media Corporation, which now also owns Billboard.