Your Mount Rushmore of American Music

I couldn’t begin to narrow it down. Interesting that there has been no mention of Frank Sinatra and I think one mention of Irving Berlin.

If I had to focus it would be on American Idioms/Genres:

  • Jazz
  • Blues - hard not to conflate this with Country, Folk, Soul, R&B and perhaps Gospel - all contributing to Rock, while also persisting as their own categories…
  • American Songbook/Broadway
  • Rock

Folks like Copland took symphonic music and gave it an American voice, but for some reason that feels a bit different vs. entire genres created here…

A lot of great music and musicians…

Interesting responses so far. I completely forgot Gershwin in the OP, which is a major oversight.

I thought about Elvis, but I’ll be brutally honest here - I think that he’s pretty much in a dead heat with Michael Jackson as “most overrated performers of all time” in my book. If one of your big criteria is commercial success, then you definitely need both of those guys on the mountain (although I’ve yet to see anybody else mention Jackson here, interestingly enough).

I had the thought that I should break it down to genres (as JKellyMap points out, there is a lot of rock in the Black Hills) but this seemed more challenging to me. I think I’ll compile the responses here and start a poll next week.

Yes, only US originated. I don’t know if we need to dig up birth certificates, but we’ll have none of Bryan Adams or Celine Dion on my mountainside. :stuck_out_tongue: Not even Neil Young, but I don’t think he’d make the cut in any case despite being a great songwriter and performer.

But Saint Clapton said Robert Johnson invented everything!

Charley Patton
Duke Ellington
Elvis Presley
Aaron Copland

With rap/hip hop being such a huge (biggest?) part of American music today, Run DMC has to be considered.

Hank Williams
James Brown
Elvis Presley
Willie Dixon

Going two different directions:

Guitar: Wes Montgomery
Bass: Jimmy Blanton
Drums: Buddy Rich
Piano: Duke Ellington, or Voice: Billie Holliday
Les Paul
Leo Fender
Robert Moog
Thomas Edison (for the phonograph)

There are way too many genres to narrow it down to four. But these four MUST be included.

Aaron Copland
Duke Ellington
George Gershwin
John Philip Sousa

Honorable mention:

Irving Berlin
Leonard Bernstein
Ella Fitzgerald
Scott Joplin

Hm, no MJ, Madonna, Cher, or Whitney. Who’s going to represent Pop music?

Louis Armstrong was the pop(s) of his day.

Four Americans for “Music” is just way too broad. There’s no way to compare Chuck Berry to Richard Rodgers to Van Cliburn to Stephen Foster to Frank Sinatra to Jimi Hendrix to Woody Guthrie to Miles Davis to Aaron Copland to Benny Goodman to Hank Williams. You need several subcategories to come up ith any kind of decent lists.

Holy cow yes. Can’t believe I forgot him. Imagine American music without the electric guitar.

Duke Ellington
George Gershwin
Bob Dylan
John Hammond, Sr. - bowing to the realities that American music has been as much about promotion as anything else. Hammond is an utter giant in his field.

No way does Elvis make this. He was a symbol of innovation, not an innovator himself. His body of creative work simply does not compare with those above.

I thought about Bruce Springsteen and Jimi Hendrix, but decided against it. I cannot say that their influence was as deep as those above. Likewise Sousa. I went back and forth on Stephen Foster, but it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to memorialize minstrel shows in this way.

Can’t be a group, but if you want to bring in an individual artist that drove the rap/hip-hop explosion, make a case for him.


Dammit no one listens to me

This is really, really tough. I’ll try this, although give me another five minutes, and I’ll come up with a different set of four:

Jimmie Rodgers
Irving Berlin
Elvis Presley
TuPac Shakur

Yeah, like I said earlier, I thought about breaking it out into genres, but this makes a more interesting discussion to me. I think that the two biggest cultural contributions that the U.S. has made to the world are music and movies. Mind you nobody invented anything out of thin air, all of our music came from other sources in Europe and Africa and was distilled into several different forms here. The names you listed above very much drive that home.

Yes, Loach was first with Les Paul. I just added in the other inventors.

George Gershwin
Art Tatum
Brian Wilson
Duane Allman

Sousa deserves consideration, not for his musical influence per se (which is mighty), but rather for the iconic presence his music has as a component of the USA’s national identity. Without a doubt, “Stars and Stripes Forever” is among the most often publicly performed music in the US, compared to any other examples from any genre. There are probably dozens of performances of that march every week, nationwide.

Mt. Rushmore is about icons. When it comes to national identity represented in music, Sousa is one of our icons. I actually regret in retrospect that I didn’t place Sousa in my list of four; maybe I’d bump Elliott Carter for him.