“You know, just for public relations sake,” he added, “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. Maybe I’m old-fashioned and I don’t give a [expletive] or whatever.”
Those comments drew immediate fire on social media. Just as quickly, alarmed phone calls and emails began circulating among the 31 board members of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation, which includes music and media executives, players from the finance world and star artists including Pharrell Williams and LL Cool J. (The foundation, created in 1983, chooses the artists who are inducted, and is affiliated with the museum in Cleveland.)
“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,” Troy Carter, a former Spotify executive and adviser to the Prince estate, told Wenner in an email to board members that was obtained by The Times.
Interviews with four people with direct knowledge of the board vote, who spoke anonymously because the panel’s deliberations are confidential, paint a picture of urgency and rage inside the institution.
While board members felt personally appalled by Wenner’s comments, they were also worried about the impact on the hall itself, and its vital relationships with artists — some of whom were already beginning to complain. One missive came from Bernie Taupin, Elton John’s longtime songwriting partner, who is set to receive the musical excellence award at this year’s ceremony on Nov. 3 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Heather Taupin, his wife and manager, sent an email to hall officials calling Wenner’s comments “a slap in the face” to inductees and adding, “We feel very strongly he should immediately resign.”
Although the hall oversees the voting that selects the winners, delicate diplomacy often happens behind the scenes to ensure that artists will accept the honor and appear on its annual induction TV show. This year’s honorees include Kate Bush, Missy Elliott, Willie Nelson, Sheryl Crow, Rage Against the Machine, the Spinners and George Michael, who died in 2016.