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The Black Music Action Coalition called Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner’s exclusion of Black and female musicians from his upcoming book The Masters “an offensive and absurd erasure.”
The organization — which was founded in the summer of 2020 amidst the uprising against police brutality and wider reckonings with systemic racism and injustice — issued the statement after Wenner was widely criticized for comments about Black and female artists in an interview with EuroJournal. In the interview, Werner said Black and female musicians “didn’t articulate at the level” of the white male musicians in his book.
“Black artists have made monumental contributions to music, influencing the artform in ways that are impossible to quantify, and yet, Black musicians are routinely the subject of racism and prejudice that undermines their value,” BMAC’s statement read.
“Jann Wenner’s recent statements indicate a persistent bias within the music industry that we at BMAC are working to combat,” it continued. “He’s shown what many industry leaders still think about Black and female musicians, and his choice of words are an affront to the creativity and genius exhibited by so many artists. The TRUE masters are the Black creators of the rock and roll genre; those by which each interviewee in the book has been touched and influenced.”
Wenner has faced wide condemnation for his remarks, with Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid among the most vociferous critics. Speaking with EuroJournal, Reid said he was actually “grateful” that Wenner “said the quiet part out loud” and went on to call his comments “staggering, but not surprising at all.”
Reid namechecked several artists he believed were as worthy of praise as the men in Wenner’s book, such as Joni Mitchell, Chrissie Hynde, and Meshell Ndegeocello. “This has always been part of the situation,” Reid continued, “of the top-down structure, the hierarchical structure of what is considered worthy of attention.”
The most significant fallout from Wenner’s comments so far was his removal from the Board of Directors of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation (Wenner co-founded the Rock Hall, as well). According to EuroJournal, the Rock Hall’s current chairman, John Sykes (who took over from Wenner in 2020), called the emergency board meeting to oust him on Saturday, Sept. 16, one day after the interview was published.
Wenner reportedly pleaded his case in an email, saying, “I understand how inflammatory these words appear, but it is not how I feel in my heart nor have acted in all my years founding and leading the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.”
According to the report, Rock Hall board members were upset with Wenner’s comments and anxious about how they might undermine the institution itself. Troy Carter, a prominent manager and executive, wrote to Wenner and his fellow board members, “Your words run the risk of undermining the very institution you helped build by propagating a narrative that isn’t just narrow but also exclusionary.”
Ultimately, the meeting lasted about 20 minutes, and the vote to oust Wenner was near unanimous, with just two dissenting voices: Wenner himself and Bruce Springsteen’s manager (and one-time Rolling Stone critic) Jon Landau. Landau also issued a statement criticizing Wenner but defending his choice to back him in the vote.
“Jann’s statements were indefensible and counter to all the hall stands for,” Landau said. “It became clear that the vote to remove him from the board would be justifiably and correctly overwhelming. My vote was intended as a gesture in acknowledgment of all that he had done to create the hall in the first place.”
Wenner did issue an apology for his comments in the interview, saying they “diminished the contributions, genius, and impact of Black and women artists.” Of his book, he said the interviews collected in it “seemed to me to best represent an idea of rock & roll’s impact on my world; 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.”
Rolling Stone issued a statement as well on Monday, saying: “Jann Wenner’s recent statements to the New York Times do represent the values and practices of today’s Rolling Stone. Jann Wenner has not been directly involved in our operations since 2019. Our purpose, especially since his departure, has bene to tell stories that reflect the diversity of voices and experiences that shape our world. At Rolling Stone’s core is the understanding that music above all can bring us together, not divide us.”