The ten most important popular musicians of the 20th Century

  • Louis Armstrong
  • Frank Sinatra
  • Elvis Presley
  • The Beatles
  • Miles Davis
  • Woody Guthrie
  • Hank Williams Sr.
  • Ella Fitzgerald
  • Irvin Berlin
  • Richard Rogers
Author Comments: 

This list developed from a discussion\argument I had with a co-worker on a recent 3 hour drive . This is not a best list. This is not my personal favorite list. This is who I consider to be the most important and influential musicians of the 20th Century. I would like to say I would comment on the choices but even I don't believe myself anymore.

Also considered.

Bob Dylan
John Coltrane
The Rolling Stones
Bruce Springsteen
Chuck Berry
Lerner and Loew
Robert Johnson
BB King
Johnny Cash
The Gershwins
Charlie Parker
Aretha Franklin
Joni Mitchell
Patsy Cline

Plus many more that I can not think of right now

Did you consider Lennon and McCartney?

The Beatles did make the list.

Cool. So who was on your co-worker's list? Which artists caused the greatest contention?

It was sort of an agreed upon list by the end of the trip.

I might have argued more for some blues folks, while she really wanted the Gershwins to make the list

Impressive list. I wish to say something great about it, but right now, I can only think about how much I agree with it and how much I really think Chuck Berry should be there instead of Elvis, and I even think Elvis' Sun Sessions are some of the finest in rock history.

Good job!

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Whenever somebody brings up the Chuck Berry / Elvis comparison, it always reminds me of how much influence Chuck's piano players had on his success. Johnny Johnson and Lafayette Leake were MUCH more irreplaceable to their leader than Scotty and Bill ever were to Elvis. It's all in the criteria I guess. This is the one I usually use to split the hair between these two rock & rollers.

Berry deserves the nod for purely musical inspiration but we were trying to also consider cultural impact.

Pretty similiar argument can be made with Johnny Cash and Hank Williams. Cash might be the most significant country artist of the last century but Williams has more influence and impact.

Obviously there are no hard and set rules

I guess I'd need more definition. By cultural impact, do you mean popularity (Elvis would win) or influence (Chuck hands-down)?

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Here is the explanation that swayed the vote during the discussion. Would Chuck Berry ever became as popular (and therefore influenntial) If there was no Elvis Presley? The answer was decided that no he would not have been.

BTW, I was arguing for Berry. As far as innfluencing of future rock and roll musicians you can not ever underestimate the importance of Chuck Berry.

DUDE!!!!!!!!!! Billie Holiday. and, um, Billie Holiday. and...wait...Billie Holiday. and one more time Billie Holiday. and then Robert Johnson...

She should have made the considered list because she was certainly considered. If my wife wrote the list she would definitely make it. Might be her favorite musician.

Its a tough list to do perhaps you should give it a try. You music knowledge seems impressive and I would like to chime in on the 500 album undertaking you started. Good luck and it is off to a rocking beginning

There's no way I could do this list, I couldn't do just ten, my mind would combust and I'd start singing the theme song from Oklahoma.

Very good list even without BILLIE. :?)

chime in anytime jg? (It looks like you're the resident music guru around here) Any albums you think I should have on there? chances are I'm forgetting at least ten of my favorites.:?)

Did you like any music from 2003?

Resident music Guru?.. you must have me confused. Im just old and haven't lost my memory yet...

Many people on this site are scary music hounds..

Sure loved a lot of music from 2003,,, Ben Harper, Van Morrison's latest, The Darkness, White Stripes, The Strokes, plenty more that I am forgetting.. Fountains of Wayne, Joe Strummer, Lucinda Williams, The Thrills.

Your list is pretty thorough and of course it is your own. Mine would include some gospel, probably more old blues and country music but I give you mad props for even trying that list...

I'd have to say that Jimmie Rodgers belongs somewhere on your list, even as an honorable mention. He was a huge influence on Woody and Hank who appear in the top ten and countless others.

Definitely should be considered. I am afraid too many may not know "The Mississippi Blue Yodeler" to put him in the top ten.

You are dead on about Hank Williams sr. His influence as the 1st popularly successful singer songwriter cannot be underestimated. He was and will always be the most important country singer period!!!! He blazed the path of cultural and personal destruction that would even allow those deeply personal blues country (rock before rock even hit) songs to be birthed long before it would become cliche. Unfortunately it cost him his life at a young 29 years old but we are certainly the benefactors. If my music friends out there want a great read i highly suggest Your Cheatin Heart by Chet Flippo. You'll be talkin to Hank youll get to know him so well. His influence on musicians like Dylan Stones LZepplen and every popular musician to come down the pike is prolific and i cant begin to tell you how happy i was to see him included on your list. He MOST definitely belongs there and high on the list IMHO. His songwriting skills alone are among the greatest ever for a popular musician right there with Chuck Berry Dylan and Lennon/McCartney....thanks for making my day....JL I would add this comment sure to stir up this discussion. I believe before its all said and done and this may take some time but eventually the world will get what some Dylan followers get already that most important most influencial artist musician of the 20TH CENTURY even more groundbreaking than Elvis and more influencial than The Beatles is the enigmatic Bob Dylan.... The world will still be listening to The Beatles CBerry Sinatra and Hank in 100 years but they will still be learning from Bob Dylan...At the risk of being a tad morbid while we are losing some real GIANTS God redt the great Robin Gibb, just watch what happens when Dylan eventually goes on to his great reward...the world willl be quite different. .. I predict itll be the largest outpouring of grief and accolades the entertainment industries ever seen....