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?