Most Influential American Musician of All Time?

Who do you regard as the most influential (i.e., musically, not necessarily commercially) American musician of all time across all genres?

The more I learn about Louis Armstrong, the more I am persuaded that he deserves that honor.
Robert Johnson?
No Brainer - Robert Zimmerman
While I think that both of the above musicians are worth candidates, (Robert Johnson and Louis Armstrong), but since I listen to Rock mostly, I would nominate Bob Dylan.
(He is not really my favorite, but between all the musicians who do idolize him, and/or those musicians who emulate his style, I think he is worthy of consideration.

My two cents worth.
Armstrong is the first to come to mind, although you could argue that Sidney Bechet trumps him.

IMHO Louis Jordan presaged rock n roll and Chuck Berry perfected it - both were highly influential in that regard.

Tvad made a good call on Robert Johnson, too. BB King influenced a lot of folks as well.

Lou Reed and arguably Brian Eno have had enormous influence on pop music post 1970.

For better or worse, Grandmaster Flash is among the most influential recent figures.

Lots of arguments for post war jazz giants, too, but I'll let better informed folks fight that fight.

All in, a very interesting question - and I'd probably end up back where you started - Armstrong.

I agree with Jeffery. I really can't think of anyone that comes close to his influence from a historical perspective although I'm sure some will say Miles Davis but not from a musician's standpoint IMO atlthough his music was certainly innovative and took jazz in a different direction. What is unique about Louis Armstrong is that he gave his instrument a voice that was unheard of up until that time and was built on by subsequent musicians. The major icon of jazz.
the most important...armstrong. the most influential...presley
can't argue too much with Satchmo or Miles
a few others to consider

Duke Ellington
Jaco Pastorius
Charles Mingus
John Coltrane
I would name Duke Ellington, Sinatra, Miles Davis, Bill Evans and John Coltrane. For the more recent major influences in jazz, I would say Michael Brecker.
There are probably different ones for different genres.
Armstrong, Presley, Dylan all deserve the nominations. One not mentioned so far is Gershwin. A man who conquered Broadway, Hollywood, and the Concert Hall. Left us memorable music and was adept at what he did.
Leonard Bernstein in classical music. He was a

Teacher and a very public advocate of classical music written in America.

In jazz I'd have to agree with other's nomination of Johnson, Armstrong and Ellington for their roles in contributing so much.

But if I can only nominate one who's music is still popular and regularily played it would have to be Bernstein. I don't listen to the fathers of jazz very often anymore important as their contributions may have been.
Woody Guthrie the song writer.
Scott Joplin (ragtime) by a mile. While he was recognized in his time as a great piano player, he obviously had a white colaborator who wrote the music. It was said "the negro mind is not capable of such ingenuity". What BS!

Armstrong, Chuck Berry, and Hank Williams
Louis Armstrong and Robert Johnson.
I would also bring attention to The Beatles and Elvis.
The Beatles were not American.
And was Elvis really a musician?
and was Elvis really a musician?

That's funny.
Uru975 has the correct Double Jeopardy answer with Gershwin. While my vanity plate reads SATCHMO, and he is a monster in terms of influence and creativity, Gershwin's reach internationally was/is so great. And besides, consider all of the greats doing "__________ Sings the Gershwin Songbook".
I owuld vote Les Paul or Miles TG
Robert Johnson is an inspired choice, particularly since his influence is based on so little recorded music and since he died so young. Had he lived longer and recorded more, I expect more people would understand how influtential he was on rock music. It's amazing that his influence didn't really even begin until he was "discovered" over two decades after his death.
W.C. Handy. First to use the 12-bar blues which underlies most of the music genres. Chuck Berry turned it into rock and roll and the rest is history from there.
Here is how I would break it down:

Country: The Carter Family
Folk/Rock: Dylan
Jazz: Armstrong
Classical: Solti
There is no 'greatest'.

There are people who define an era or particular kind of music.

Analogtroll beat me to the naming of one: Woodrow Wilson (Woody) Guthrie.

Then, of course there are the big-time commercial successes like Bernstien and Gershwin and Armstrong.

Someone mentioned the Beatles...which are, of course one of many British Bands that introduced White America to The Blues.

Thank you, everybody for leaving Irving Berlin out of it.

Ah, let the controversy roll....(and rock!)
Bill Monroe - perhaps the only undisputed creator of a genre of music and who is in the bluegrass, country and rock n roll halls of fame. Honorable mentions - Jimmie Rodgers and Les Paul.
Frank Zappa was the most gifted musician in the last 100 years, maybe more. He wrote and played music that very very few people would ever attempt, let alone do a credible job. RIP Frank...
Frank Zappa.
Aaron Copland
Jimi Hendrix
somehow the word 'influential' got lost in this thread, and substituted with 'greatest'
Duke Ellington and Gershwin would stand out.

This is a great thread!
I concur...ZAPPA!!
Newbee, I second Bernstein as one of the most influential American musicians. He really brought the idea of classical music to the masses. His music also had very wide appeal after his "early" days.

Vegasears, I too agree that Copland was an excellent American musician. He was able to capture the American spirit and put it to music. His pieces, I believe will far outlive us all as a look into what life was like in the United States in the 20th century.

I think that Arthur Sullivan is perhaps the most influential American Musician. He along with William Gilbert gave birth to the ultimate American art form, the musical. I think that the musical really is the United States' most important contribution to world music...even though I am not a fan of the musical, together the musicals in production today make up most of the live music people pay to see...

These are the classical musicians. There are many others that have had huge contributions to popular music...perhaps too many to name. It is interesting to see Grand Master Flash being mentioned in this thread...It is true that he gave birth to the highest grossing form of music in all history...Rap...I, for one, have listened to my fair share, hard not too growing up in the 90's, but it sounds like s*#t on my hi-fi setup.

As for artists that will be influential going into the 21st century. I think that Dave Mathews, and his eclectic approach to the band has created a sound that appeals to many people just because it has depth in today’s depthless it has wide spread appeal. As for classical musicians that have a lot of influence going into the 21st century. I would include John Williams, Danny Elfman, and Philip Glass, their film scores are the newest, next huge contribution to classical music. The problem is that there is much more money for these modern composers in music for film than in the old method of writing symphonies...I for one look forward to what happened to music in the 21st century...should be interesting.
bad question--miles davis influence won't be felt for another 200 years...he get my vote.
Read the Book Louis Armstrong A life by Bergrand (?) was on Time s best seller list and is a jazz book wose prose and historyography is above all the others.Yes he created the INDIVIDUAL musician with his soloing.The best Jazz/Drug/Prison book is Sraight life by Art Pepper.Blue People by Leroi Jones in interesting too.But I'd say you'd need a list.Armtsrong and Bing Crosby created modern singing in 20's.Yould have to make list.Ellington,Armsrong,Charlie Parker.Miles,Elvis,Dylan,Beatles,Stones,Zepplin.Maybe the most polytheistic guy was Ray Charles who could sing and play in any bag.But it's hard to deny many of he above.Zappa was genius.As were Bernstein.......But you have to take the question in terms of idiom."Music" is just too broad.The one thing s in the Classical arena not many voices extend beyond Stravinsky in 1904.Maybe Bartok but I might not even have right century.
I can't see how "Beatles,Stones,Zepplin" qualify as "the most influential American musician of all time".

And Bela Bartok was almost 59 when he moved to New York, which he reportedly found "alien". Well, Stravinsky was about the same age when he arrived, but then again, he became a US citizen and lived in the US for another 30 years; unlike poor Bela, who died aged 64.

You are right about the list though.

Is the book you recommend "Louis Armstrong: An Extravagant Life" by Laurence Bergreen?

Pawlowski6132: I had doubts about the Elvis musicianship (apart from singing, of course) until I saw his '68 "comeback" video.
He was circle-jamming with a big honkin' acoustic and
was "playin' guitar just like a ringin' a bell"...
I think you are confusing "musician" with "writer".

I nominate John Philip Sousa.
most prolific composer- Richard Rodgers
musician- Satchmo
performer- Garland
singer- Ella
spiritually inspired- coltrane
educator/mentor- l.bernstein
breakdown by instrument:
by genre:
- you get the idea. talent takes so many forms.
try deciding who your favorite actor is while you're at it.
i could go on for hours expounding on all of the incredible talent; then directors, writers, photography,...
Irving Berlin
Bob Dylan
Cole Porter
Gs5556 I believe has this one right. If the question is "influential", the answer would have to be Handy based on his influence on all of the major American music forms: blues, country, jazz and rock.

It's a stretch to call classical an "American" music form. With the exception of any of the classical artists named here, pretty much all of the rest of the names can at least partially trace their roots back to Handy.
Scott Joplin
How 'bout Les Paul?
Miles Davis, Robert Johnson, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Irving Berlin, George Gerswin, and Elvis Presley, in no particular order.

The question itself is subjective, and therefore has to definitive answer.

Elvis was a very good singer, a poor to fair guitarist, barely a songwriter, and a mediocre (benefit of the doubt on this one) actor.

He was a great entertainer but hardly a musician.
I agree that the question of who is the most influential is subjective and, therefore, has no definitive answer. But I think this question is far less subjective than "who is the greatest."

Although I had initially suggested Louis Armstrong, and still feel that he is right up there, subsequent posts have me thinking more about Robert Johnson and Bob Dylan. All three of these musicians seem to have influence that goes way beyond their own musical genres. Can the same be said of, for example, Gershwin, Berlin, or Grandmaster Flash?
Frank Zappa, Leonard Bernstein, Robert Zimmerman, Miles Davis and Frank Sinatra
Can I have an example of someone (who in their own right have made a significant contribution to American Music) who's been influenced by Frank Zappa?
Gershwin is probably my favorite American songwriter/composer on any given day but the question is influential musician not greatest songwriter. Is Gershwin even the most influential songwriter of the jazz era? I don't think he is. That would probably go to WC Handy or maybe Scott Joplin. Their music is at the root of blues and jazz respectively.

Some of the answers are getting off point IMO and yes, this is purely a subjective exercise, none of it can be proven. A great case can be made for Elvis. How many ten's of thousands of impersonators has his influence begat? All seriousness aside he is a major influence as a musician? Yes, if you count a singer in the equation but then the question should be most influential singer? While a singer is technically a musician it never entered my mind to consider individuals know as singers (i.e. Sinatra, Presley, Fitzgerald, Vaughn, Holiday, Madonna etc) or songwriters (i.e. Gershwin, Porter, Arlen, Berlin, Dylan). I certainly consider many of the above excellent musicians but their influence is greater as
Singers and/or Songwriters. I was thinking along the lines of a musical instrument musician. Is that the intent of the question or do singers and songwriters count as well?

Leonard Berstein and Arthur Fiedler are probably the most influential personalities that brought orchestral and classical music to the masses. Does anyone remember Berstein's show in the 50's something like "Young people's guide to the Orchestra" I was greatly influenced by that show as a kid as I'm sure many more were. But for the question posed I don't think these guys count. The question requires narrower boundaries. What do you say Jeffery, its your thread?
The original punk, Hank Williams Sr: Writer, performer, drunk.
How many musicians can honestly claim to ever approach Zappa's ability? By the same token the ridiculous guitar solos of the 80's "wee wee, weeeeee" went by the wayside and have been replaced with thoughtful and capable efforts by many fine guitarists. Say what you will but the two best guitar solos in the last 25 years that were considered to be commercial successes were Marillion's "Heart of Loriam" on the Misplaced Childhood album, and Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb" from The Wall. I would argue both of these pieces were infleunced by Frank Zappa. I can point to specific tracks if need be, suffice to say Zappa was one of the most innovative musicians ever. For your own good, listen to "Yo Mama" on the Sheik Yerbouti album, absolutely unbelievable. How about Black Napkins, Inca Road, or The Torture Never Stops? With all due respect Zappa paved the way and set an incredibly high standard for all to aspire to. Thankfully many have tried...