An inductee of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is protesting one of the Hall’s upcoming inductions. Complicating matters is that the protest comes from Jann S. Wenner, the founder of Rolling Stone and a co-founder and former chairman of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation, who was himself inducted into the institution as a non-performer in 2004, when he was a recipient of the Ahmet Ertegun Award.
Wenner says that entertainment attorney Allen Grubman, who is also a founding board member and set to receive the Ertegun award next month, does not meet the Hall’s criteria for the honor. “Allen Grubman has made no contribution of any kind, by any definition, to the creative development or the history of rock & roll,” says Wenner. “He has been chosen because of his clout as entertainment super lawyer. This decision is about money and bending to the ego of a music business power broker.”
Grubman — long one of the most powerful attorneys in the music industry — counts Bruce Springsteen, Lizzo, The Weeknd, Lil Nas X, J Balvin, U2, Mariah Carey, the David Bowie estate, Lady Gaga and Madonna among the clients of his firm, Grubman Shire Meiselas & Sacks, as well as Spotify, Live Nation, and the major record companies and music publishers. He will be one three recipients of the Ertegun award at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Nov. 5 in Los Angeles along with Interscope Records co-founder/CEO Jimmy Iovine and Sugar Hill Records founder Sylvia Robinson, who will be inducted posthumously.
Grubman was nominated by Jon Landau, who, in addition to being a founding board member of the hall of fame and the head of its nominating committee, is the manager of Springsteen, a client of Grubman’s firm. Landau — who began his career as a rock critic — and Wenner have been friends and allies since the beginnings of Rolling Stone, as Wenner details in his recent memoir, Like a Rolling Stone. Wenner also takes aim at Grubman in his book in passing, saying the lawyer “didn’t know Jerry Lee Lewis from Jerry Lewis.”
“Jon remains one of my oldest and best friends,” Wenner told Billboard. “But we completely disagree about this. We have different agendas. Mine is the integrity of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Jon has got a business relationship to maintain.” And that relationship, he adds, constitutes a “conflict of interest” when it comes to Landau’s endorsement of Grubman.
The Rolling Stone founder decided to go public with his dissatisfaction after Billboard contacted him about a passage in his memoir detailing his decision to retire as chairman of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation at the beginning of 2020 (both Billboard and Rolling Stone are owned by Penske Media Corp.; Wenner no longer has a full-time role with the magazine he founded). “My only worry was the pressure to compromise the integrity of the nominating and voting. I should have known better,” wrote Wenner, who remains a board member. “After I resigned, I was told that music business power-brokers on the board were going to be inducted. These individuals had made not one iota of difference to the history, present or future of the creation of music, which was the explicit criterion. But they had accumulated influence and wealth. It was an inside job.”
Wenner doesn’t name anyone in his book, but in May, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame announced that Grubman, who is a founder and board member, would receive the Ahmet Ertegun Award, which, according to the organization’s website, is given to “non-performing industry professionals who, through their dedicated belief and support of artists and their music, have had a major influence on the creative development and growth of rock & roll and music that has impacted youth culture.”
When Billboard contacted Wenner about the passage, he confirmed that he was referring to Grubman.
This year’s Ahmet Ertegun Award inductees were chosen for the first time by a committee formed by the hall of fame foundation’s current chairman, iHeartMedia president of entertainment enterprises John Sykes. He is a committee member along with Wenner, Landau (who also heads the hall’s nominating committee); Jody Gerson, the chairman/CEO of Universal Music Publishing Group; Jon Platt, chairman/CEO, Sony Music Publishing; Rob Light, the head of CAA’s music department; and Joel Peresman, president/CEO of the foundation. A hall of fame insider says that in past years the Ertegun inductees were chosen via a “consensus decision” that included Wenner, Landau, and musicians Paul Shaffer and Robbie Robertson. The source adds that the creation of a formal committee had been Wenner’s suggestion, although Wenner had wanted more people outside of the industry, such as music historians and artists.
According to one source familiar with the situation, “Wenner presented his case against Allen to the full committee” in a “a lively 20-minute debate” during which all of the committee members got to express their views. Multiple sources confirm that the subsequent vote was five-to-one in favor of Grubman’s induction with Wenner casting the sole dissenting vote. (Peresman, who oversees the day-to-day operation of the foundation, does not vote.) The committee voted unanimously to induct Iovine and Robinson.
Wenner’s account of the proceedings is significantly different. He says that the discussion and vote regarding Grubman’s induction “was no more than a 45-minute phone call, and prior to that call, I was told by Jon that my dissent would be useless. The issue was already settled,” he says.
In response, the source says, “It is generally routine for committee members to discuss how they would likely vote on different issues before a meeting and how an upcoming vote will likely go.”
Another source familiar with the committee’s voting process says Grubman’s induction is justified because he is “one of the all-time great dealmakers, but his impact and those of the next generation of agents and lawyers who followed him, is not always appreciated.” The source contends that Grubman’s decades of “staunch advocacy and success in negotiating groundbreaking deals for these artists changed the balance of power in the industry,” providing the artists he has represented “the security and stability that allowed them to focus on their craft.”
Wenner says the argument that Grubman “is responsible for historic changes in recording artists’ contractual relationships with record companies is ex-post facto hogwash. This is an artful but disingenuous fig leaf to cover the absence of a valid reason. It is putting lipstick on a pig.”
Wenner says that inducting Grubman into the hall of fame is the equivalent of giving former CAA founder and Disney studios chief Michael Ovitz an Oscar. “The underlying and inescapable truth is that he has not made one iota of difference then, now or for the future of rock & roll,” he says. “He doesn’t make music. He makes money.”
A statement issued by the foundation did not address Wenner’s allegations directly but instead adopts language the hall of fame’s website uses to describe its criteria for the Ahmet Ertegun award: “The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame relies on a diverse group of expert music professionals and artists to select those who are inducted each year. We welcome this year’s group of very well deserving inductees and congratulate them on their significant influence on the music and artists that have moved youth culture.” Grubman, Landau, and spokespersons for Light and Platt declined to comment. Sykes, Peresman and Gerson did not respond to requests for comment.
But one source with ties to the organization says, “This is just Jann being Jann. After all of his great contributions, it’s sad that he’s making these unnecessary personal attacks to bring attention to himself.”
“That is a personal attack,” says Wenner. “Why can’t they defend themselves?”