Your Mount Rushmore of American Music

I’ve been chewing on this thought for a couple of weeks: Imagine that you have an opportunity to carve four faces on a mountain as a lasting memorial to American music. You can pick any four artists from any genres. You get to decide whether you want to base it on artistic achievement, commercial success, how influential he/she was. You can have any combination of genres, all from one if you want or spread it around and take one from four different genres. The only caveat is that they have to be individual musicians (not bands) and they have to be Americans (sorry all you British invasion types - get your own damned mountain :p).

I’m inclined to mix genres and mostly go with artistic achievement and/or influence myself. As of tonight, I’d go with:

Bob Dylan - Enormous body of work, probably had more of his songs covered than just about anybody else you can think of.

Johnny Cash - The real deal in a genre that has forever had a procession of flavor of the month hat acts that come and go. Just got better with age, IMO.

Miles Davis - When I think of sheer artistry in Jazz, I think of Davis and Coltrane. Alas, John Coltrane left us too early, but we have a huge catalog from Davis, who continually reinvented his sound and stayed fresh. If there’s any one musical artist from the 20th century that I’d bet people will still be listening to in 500 years, it would be Miles Davis.

Ray Charles - The father of modern R&B. Try to imagine Stax and Motown without Ray Charles paving the way.

There are some pretty deserving faces that aren’t getting carved in that mountain as well. I might be persuaded to change any one of those (well, maybe not Miles Davis), and could have a different opinion tomorrow. Hank Williams in place of Johnny Cash? Jimi Hendrix instead of Dylan? Does James Brown deserve to represent R&B over Ray Charles? Chuck Berry, anybody? Muddy Waters? Aretha Frankiln? Billie Holliday?

Who do you choose to immortalize? Why?

Charles Ives
Elliott Carter
Leonard Bernstein
Aaron Copland

Copland
Cohan
Presley
Bernstein

Duke Ellington
Jimi Hendrix
Frank Zappa
Stephen Foster

This is music written and/or performed by US-born (not Canadian) writers and/or singers? For all time? Mine is uncomfortably modern and no doubt unredeemably personal, but here we go:

Robert Johnson - origin of the black blues, and so everything in US popular music after the 30s - whether it realises it or not.
Chuck Berry - harbinger of both R&B and Rock’n’Roll
Bob Dylan - reinvented folk for decades, and coalesced popular and protest streams
Jimi Hendrix - goes without saying really

Assuming you mean Leonard Cohen - not US but Canadian.

George M. Cohan

The blues existed at least a generation before Robert Johnson, probably a couple of generations. Johnson first recorded in 1936; blues recordings exist right back to start of the era of recorded music. There are plenty of 1920s blues recordings and they’re all copyright free so you can find them easily online. Some great stuff there.

Robert Johnson was great, absolutely brilliant, but he did not invent the blues by any stretch of the imagination.

Second group:
Stevie Wonder
Brian Wilson
Odetta
John Coltrane

Third group:
James Brown
Scott Joplin
Woody Guthrie
Leonard Bernstein

(I know, cheating. Hey, there’s plenty of rock in the Black Hills!)

Miles Davis
Bob Dylan
Trey Anastasio
J Mascis

Elvis
Robert Johnson
Aaron Copland
Les Paul

And Elvis didnt invent rock and roll but he is the king.

Irving Berlin
Aretha Franklin
Elvis Presley
Duke Ellington

As Ellis noted, George M. Cohan, one that many call the father of the American musical.

It was a toss-up between him and Louis Armstrong, and since I like Cohan better… well, he got the nod.

Louis Armstrong
James Brown
Elvis Presley
Ray Charles

Bob Dylan

Elvis Presley

Louis Armstrong

John Philip Sousa
Dylan is the best songwriter of all time, Presley gave birth to rock and roll, Armstrong revolutionized what can be done with an instrument, Sousa the best composer.

Scott Joplin
Aaron Copland
George M. Cohan
Woodie Guthrie

Bob Dylan
George Gershwin
Cole Porter
Willie Dixon

Elvis
Chuck Berry
Miles Davis
Ray Charles

Jimmie Rodgers
Bill Monroe
George Gershwin
Stephen Foster

Elvis Presley - c’mon, you can’t have this and not have The King
Bob Dylan - amazing songwriter.
Johnny Cash - really should be Hank Williams, but longevity gets Cash the nod
Miles Davis - OP said it better than I could

Yes, it’s mid-to-late 20th Century exclusive. Sue me. :wink:

I could see a separate Rushmore for Gershwin, Sousa, etc…