When Rolling Stone magazine released its inaugural issue on November 9, 1967, in San Francisco, Calif., rock and roll music was going through a pivotal transition. The 1960s saw the music genre transform on many levels. Rock and Roll is the offspring of the blues. Many refuse to recognize this direct link to Black America, but it cannot be disputed. Black America has birthed four of the most influential musical genres in American culture. Ragtime at the beginning of the 20th century would evolve into what is known as the blues. On the heels of the blues there was jazz. Blues became the impetus for what became known as rock and roll. And of course, hip-hop incorporates all the musical movements mentioned above. If Black America wanted to be real nag about it, country, gospel, disco, and salsa music owes it genesis to the descendants of the enslaved. There is not one genre of American music that has not been influenced by the genius of blackness. Not one single note of music can escape the musicality of Black magic. Not one. So, to hear the co-founder of Rolling Stone, Jann Wenner, deliberately make the erroneous statement that Black artists and women did not “articulate enough… on an intellectual level” or were not “philosophers of rock and roll” so could not be considered for his soon to be released book from Little, Brown and Company, “Masters,” is disconcerting and a hearty slap in the face to the legacy of music in this country.
Should anyone be surprised or shocked by Jann Wenner’s remarks? Not really considering that America has a slight problem with telling the truth. “Masters” is a book that supposedly Wenner compiled interviews that he conducted with famous rock and roll icons about their craft, legacy, and musicianship. Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones is featured in Wenner’s “The Masters.” Let’s just dissect Jagger ala six degrees of separation. Who and what musical genre inspired and influenced The Rolling Stones? The blues and the late great Muddy Waters in particular. Where did Jagger learn how to conceptualize his stage performance? He learned it from another great Black artist: Anna Mae Bullock. Also known as Tina Turner. Tina would have been a perfect choice to interview regarding her thoughts on rock and roll. Has Wenner never seen how ‘articulate’ and ‘intellectual’ Tina Turner can be giving an interview? John Lennon. The Beatles were inspired and influenced by what and by whom? Black America’s blues artists. Every thread of popular rock and roll can be tied back to Black American musicians and artists. This cannot be denied no matter how many times White supremacy suppress or attempt to erase our history. Wenner not only bulldozed over the “true” masters of rock and roll, but also curbed white women. Stevie Nicks is not intelligent enough to articulate the embodiment of rock and roll culture for Wenner? Carole King and Joni Mitchell cannot have an ‘intellectual’ conversation about their successful songwriting careers and how it shaped the culture of rock and roll? No Carly Simon? Carly Simon is the daughter of the publishing magnet that co-founded Simon and Schuster? Carly Simon is not intellectual enough to articulate the breadth of rock and roll? What were the two requirements to be included in Jann Wenner’s book again? Oh. white and male. In Wenner’s mind, only White men are articulate and intellectual.
Rolling Stone magazine and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame moved quickly to distance themselves from their co-founder’s absurd statements. Monday the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame moved to dismiss Wenner from its board of directors by simply stating in a press release “Jann Wenner has been removed from the Board of Directors of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation.” No other comment was offered. Rolling Stone magazine said in a statement the same day that the views of Wenner “do not represent the values and practices of today’s Rolling Stone.” Note “today’s Rolling Stone” because that part of the statement is a key one. Yes. Rolling Stone magazine became the centralized element in rock and roll that helped to overlook and /or exclude the contributions of Black artists and women from the genre. Rolling Stone was not unlike other magazines of the time that did not feature Black American musical artists or Black artists of the Diaspora, or even Black / African / Caribbean adjacent genres. That is why there were Ebony, Jet, Essence, Vibe, and The Source magazines. These magazines filled in the gap that white supremacy deliberately left wide open and vacant. How an entire genre of music can conveniently forget its roots and year after year exclude Black artists, the architects of said genre, from indulging and profiting from the art form was revealed through the words of Jann Wenner and truth be told, it was not surprising. But it was still shocking to hear publicly.
“For public relations sake, maybe I should have gone and found one Black and one woman artist to include here,” Wenner continued in his interview, “that didn’t measure up to that same historical standard, just to avert this kind of criticism.” What “historical standard” is Wenner referring to? Racism. White supremacy. Wenner is saying that perhaps he should have selected a “token” Black artist and a “token” woman…preferably white, if he had to go there, to be appear inclusive. However, the climate of America reflects that diversity and inclusivity is currently on life support. Wokeness is a bad word and the idea that people should be judged “by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin” has yet to taken serious root in the hearts of white supremacy because its gate-keepers have become even more emboldened and through legislation, elections, and social media, the next generation of potential white supremacist gate-keepers are being groomed to continue a legacy of hate and racism. Black America is resilient and a tribe of survivors. Whitewash Black history or scrape it out of textbooks entirely. Doesn’t matter. In every white guitar-God protégé to come will be heard a riff or lick “borrowed” from the great Jimi Hendrix. You can ignore us, but you can’t get away from us.