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Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner under fire for comments on female, Black rockers

Jann Wenner, the founder of Rolling Stone magazine, is facing criticism for saying that Black and female musicians were not "articulate" enough to be included in his new book, which features seven interviews with white, male rock 'n' roll icons.

The uproar over Wenner's comments prompted an apology from the storied music journalist, and he was also booted from the board of directors of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation.

"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," Wenner said late Saturday in a statement through his publisher, Little, Brown and Company.

Wenner said the interviews in the book "were not meant to represent the whole of music and it's diverse and important originators" but rather to "reflect the high points" of his career.

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

The tumult began on Friday when the Times published its interview with Wenner, who was promoting his upcoming book, The Masters.

The 368-page volume has interviews with musicians such as Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen and others. Notably, all seven interview subjects are white men.

Journalist David Marchese asked Wenner why no similarly famous female or Black rockers — such as Janis Joplin or Stevie Wonder — made the cut.

Wenner said the men he interviewed were "kind of philosophers of rock" and that no female musicians were "as articulate enough on this intellectual level" as the men.

"It's not that they're inarticulate, although, go have a deep conversation with Grace Slick or Janis Joplin. Please, be my guest," Wenner said. "You know, Joni [Mitchell] 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."

Wenner similarly dismissed Black artists, saying he got a sense of how they would speak by listening to their music and reading interviews with them.

"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 defended the selection of interviewees as "intuitive" and musicians that he was "interested in," and suggested he should have included female and Black artists to appease critics.

"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," he said. "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."

In a brief statement Sunday, a spokesperson for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame said Wenner had been removed from the board of directors of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation.

Founded in 1967, Rolling Stone rocketed to prominence with its visually striking covers, investigative journalism and lengthy interviews with top musicians.

Wenner Media, Rolling Stone's former parent company, sold a controlling stake in the magazine to Penske Media in 2017.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Joe Hernandez