Living Colour, Black Music Action Coalition Slam Jann Wenner’s Controversial Remarks and Apology

The torrent of criticism around Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner’s controversial remarks regarding Black and female musicians continued on Tuesday as both the pioneering rock group Living Colour and the Black Music Action Coalition weighed in with statements.

Wenner posted an apology for his remarks on Saturday, shortly after the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation announced that he had been ejected from its board of directors.

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The members of Living Colour — Will Calhoun, Corey Glover, Vernon Reid and Doug Wimbish — wrote: “We, the members of Living Colour, would like to address Jann Wenner’s recent apology for controversial statements made in support of his new book.

“The very idea of a book called ‘The Masters,’ which blatantly omits the essential contributions of Black, people of color and women to Rock & Pop Culture speaks to a much larger and more systemic problem. His New York Times interview statement that African American and female artists are not ‘articulate’ enough to express themselves about their own work is absurd on its face.

“For someone who has chronicled the musical landscape for over 50 years, it is an insult to those of us who sit at the feet of these overlooked geniuses. To hear that he believes Stevie Wonder isn’t articulate enough to express his thoughts on any given subject is quite frankly, insulting. To hear that Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, Tina Turner, or any of the many women artists that he chooses not to mention, are not worthy of the status of ‘master’ smacks of sexist gatekeeping and exclusionary behavior.

“Mr. Wenner’s apology only solidifies the idea. That his book is a reflection of his worldview suggests that it is narrow and small indeed.”

Black Music Action Coalition co-founders Willie “Prophet” Stiggers and Caron Veazey said in a joint statement:

“The exclusion of Black and female musicians from a book on ‘The Masters’ of rock and roll is an offensive and absurd erasure. 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.

“Jann Wenner’s recent statements indicate a persistent bias within the music industry that we at BMAC are working to combat. 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’s comments took place in a New York Times interview published Friday. The most inflammatory of those statements came after writer David Marchese asked why there were no Black or female musicians in Wenner’s recent book of interview, “The Masters.”

“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 [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. The people I interviewed were the kind of philosophers of rock,” Wenner said.

“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.

“I mean, look at what Pete Townshend was writing about, or Jagger, or any of them,” he continued. “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.”

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