“You know, just for public relations,” he added, “maybe I should have gone and found a black and a female artist to include here who didn’t live up to the same historical standard, just to stave off this kind of criticism. Which I understand. I had a chance to do it. Maybe I’m old-fashioned and I don’t give a (expletive) or whatever.”
These comments immediately drew fire on social media. Just as quickly, alarmed phone calls and e-mails began circulating among the 31 board members of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation, which includes music and media executives, financial players and star artists including Pharrell Williams and LL Cool J. (The foundation, which was established in 1983, selects the artists to be inducted, and is affiliated with the museum in Cleveland.)
“Your words risk undermining the very institution you helped build by propagating a narrative that is not just narrow but exclusionary,” Troy Carter, a former Spotify executive and advisor to the Prince estate, told to Wenner in an e-mail to the board. members, who were contacted by The Times.
Interviews with four people with direct knowledge of the board’s vote, who spoke anonymously because the panel’s deliberations are confidential, paint a picture of urgency and fury in the institution.
While board members felt personally shaken by Wenner’s comments, they were also concerned about the impact on the hall itself and its vital relationship with artists — some of whom had already begun to complain. One letter came from Bernie Taupin, Elton John’s longtime songwriting partner, who will receive the award for musical excellence at this year’s ceremony on Nov. 3 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Heather Taupin, his wife and manager, emailed hall officials calling Wenner’s comments “a slap in the face” to inmates, adding, “We feel very strongly that he should resign immediately.”
Although the hall oversees the voting that selects the winners, delicate diplomacy often takes place behind the scenes to ensure artists will accept the honor and appear in its annual induction televised 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.