Bernie Taupin Calls Out Jann Wenner During Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Speech, Urges Merle Haggard Induction

When Bernie Taupin received the Musical Excellence Award at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Friday (November 3) at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, he talked about his 56-year collaborative partnership and “marriage” to Elton John, his many influences, and how he became a lyricist.

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Taupin also didn’t miss the opportunity to call out Rock & Roll Hall of Fame co-founder Jann Wenner, who was recently dismissed as its board member after his recent insensitive comments about female and Black artists in his 2023 book The Masters: Conversations with Dylan, Lennon, Jagger, Townshend, Garcia, Bono, and Springsteen.

“I guess you could say my being inducted is a paradox, perhaps,” said Taupin in his speech. “But either way, I’m honored to be in the class of 2023 alongside a group of such profoundly ‘articulate’ women and outstanding ‘articulate’ Black artists along with all of the other music masters here tonight.”

[RELATED: 6 Songs Bernie Taupin Wrote for Other Artists, Outside of Elton John]

In The Masters, the Rolling Stone co-founder stated that Back and female artists that he encountered during his time at the magazine were not “articulate” enough to be included in his book.

“It’s not that they’re not creative geniuses,” said Wenner in his New York Times interview in September. “It’s not that they’re inarticulate, although, go have a deep conversation with Grace Slick or Janis Joplin. Please, be my guest.” Wenner added, “You know, Joni [Mitchell] was not a philosopher of rock and 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.”

Elaborating on why there were no Black artists featured in the book, Wenner continued, “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.”

Prior to Taupin’s speech, Elton John talked about how he and Taupin found one another in 1967 after they both answered the same Liberty Records ad for new songwriters in the music newspaper, New Musical Express. After connecting, they ended up working on John’s 1969 debut Empty Sky, and have remained song partners since with Taupin writing the words and John composing. Both were also inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1992.

“We scaled heights we never thought were possible and never, ever had an argument,” said John during his speech. He joked, “He [Taupin] was disgusted with my behavior. That’s a given.” John added that the two finished a new album three days earlier.

“He is a conjurer of cinema in words,” said John at the conclusion of his speech before sitting down at the piano for a rare, post-retirement performance of their 1971 hit “Tiny Dancer.” John returned later for The Band’s “The Weight” with 2023 inductee Sheryl Crow, Brittany Howard, and Chris Stapleton, honoring those who passed away in 2023, including The Band’s leader Robbie Robertson.

“I’m called a songwriter, but in reality, I’m just the writing bit,” said Taupin during his induction speech, “so I guess that makes me a lyricist, which in my estimation always sounded way too professional.”

He went on to talk about the diversity in music and defended pop. “Diversity in genres and styles is exciting and relevant,” said Taupin. “When it exactly was when the term ‘pop’ became a dirty word, I don’t know. … Every artist in this musical institution and every artist inducted on this stage tonight is pop, because pop in its original connotation meant popular, as in popular music.”

Responding to his serendipitous meeting and partnership with John, Taupin joked “In 1967, I became the luckiest man alive and got the other best wife a man could ever hope for.”

Taupin also talked about how country music first inspired him after hearing Marty Robbins’ 1959 song “El Paso. ” In that moment, he said, “Everything changed. That was kind of my road to Damascus moment, because it was raw, real, and a million miles from comic book cowboys. It was cinematic, vivid, and visual. At that moment, I realized that you can conjure up stories and turn them into songs.”

Calling out some of his influences, including Louis Armstrong, Peggy Lee, Nina Simone, Little Richard, Duke Ellington, and Willie Dixon, as well as a number of authors like Ray Bradbury, Taupin also called on the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame to induct one of his biggest heroes Merle Haggard.

[RELATED: The Meaning of Merle Haggard’s 1969 Protest Song “Okie From Muskogee”]

“A one-of-a-kind rugged all-around genius, who sets a fire under me every time I hear his songs,” said Taupin. “As a side note, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame are you listening?”

Along with Taupion, Chaka Khan and Al Kooper also received the Musical Excellence Award. The 2023 Rock Hall inductees also included Willie Nelson, Kate Bush, Missy Elliott, Sheryl Crow, Rage Against the Machine, the Spinners, and George Michael, while the Musical Influence Awards went to Link Wray and DJ Kool Herc. Late Soul Train host and producer Don Cornelius was also honored with the Ahmet Ertegun Award.

Photo: Jennifer Pottheiser / Courtesy of Disney

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