Rolling Stone co-founder Jann Wenner apologises after claiming Black and female artists aren’t ‘articulate’ enough for his book

Jann Wenner, the co-founder of US music publication Rolling Stone, has issued an apology following controversial comments he made about Black and female musicians not being “articulate” enough to be featured in his new book.

In an interview with The New York Times published on Friday (15 September), in which he discussed his new interview collection The Masters, Wenner said he didn’t include interviews with Black and female musicians because they are not “articulate” enough.

On Saturday, following a backlash to his comments, Wenner apologised “wholeheartedly”.

“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 apologise wholeheartedly for those remarks,” he said.

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; they were 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.

“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.”

The Masters features historic interviews with rock musicians such as Bono, Mick Jagger, John Lennon and Bruce Springsteen.

When asked in the Times interview how he had chosen who to feature, Wenner replied: “It was kind of intuitive over the years; it just fell together that way. 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.”

When the interviewer, David Marchese, challenged this claim by citing Joni Mitchell, Wenner said: “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.

“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.

“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.”

Stevie Wonder in 1974 (Getty Images)
Stevie Wonder in 1974 (Getty Images)

He added: “I mean, look at what Pete Townshend was writing about, or Jagger, or any of them. They were deep things about a particular generation, a particular spirit and a particular attitude about rock ’n’ roll. Not that the others weren’t, but these were the ones that could really articulate it.”

Wenner said he could have included a Black musician and a female musician “just for public relations’ sake” to swerve a backlash.

“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,” he said. “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.”

Wenner, who is also a co-founder of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, headed up Rolling Stone for half a century before stepping back in 2019.

On Saturday, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced that Wenner has been removed from its board of directors.