(November 8, 2023). Maybe he was emboldened by his upcoming turn as the next Super Bowl Halftime Show headliner (SB LVIII on February 11, 2024, at the Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas).
Maybe it’s part of the eight-time Grammy winner’s marketing campaign for that recently announced upcoming new album alongside a recent return to the top 25 of the Hot 100 with his latest hit, “Good, Good,” featuring Summer Walker and 21 Savage.
Or maybe the R&B crooner who is featured in PEOPLE’s 2023 Sexiest Man Alive issue (dropped Wednesday, Nov. 8) has always felt he belongs in the same conversation with R&B/soul/pop greats like Marvin Gaye, Prince, and Michael Jackson.
Whatever the motivation, Usher has placed himself on the imaginary Mt. Rushmore of R&B—you know, that symbolic sculpted tribute to the four greatest of anything—along with those three late icons. Then, in an interview with E! News this week where he discussed that topic and more, he added the late Whitney Houston, noting that the honorees didn’t all have to be men.
Usher indeed has a case to make about his own place on that imaginary monument. He’s been one of the most successful R&B musicians of the past 30 years (and he’s only 45). He’s had 13 No. 1 songs on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and nine No. 1s on the Hot 100 to go along with those eight Grammys.
His 2004 album Confessions is still the best-selling album by a Black or R&B artist during the 21st century, with 20 million copies sold worldwide (including more than half that in the U.S. alone).
And, while his hit making days have been fewer and farther between in recent years, his total of 100 million records sold places him among the biggest selling artists—regardless of race or ethnicity—of all time.
Besides, anyone who is invited to perform at a Super Bowl halftime show has certainly reached iconic status.
So, aside from the fact that any recognition on such a monument—were it to exist—would usually come posthumously, one could make a case for Usher’s image to be immortalized alongside R&B music’s greatest.
There may be, however, one or two other legends—living or dead—whose omission from the imaginary carving might cause fans to take issue with Usher’s inclusion…or that of some of the other names he mentioned.
Soul icons like Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, or even Ray Charles, none of whom Usher included, surely belong in this conversation. They are arguably—along with Jackson, Houston and Prince—among the seven or eight most accomplished R&B musicians and entertainers of the 20th century.
Arguments about topics like these are often subjective, with one’s opinion often influenced by the times in which they came up.
When Usher first burst onto the scene in 1994, Jackson, Prince and Houston were either at or fresh off their peaks in popularity, while Gaye, whose life had been taken just a decade earlier, was heavily influential in Usher’s sensual crooning style.
Millenials and Gen-Z’ers might be inclined to throw different names in the mix, including Beyoncé, Rihanna or Chris Brown, the latter of whom has been the most consistent R&B hitmaker of the past nearly 20 years, despite attempts to cancel him for various personal transgressions.
Baby Boomers and older generations would likely stump for Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Ruth Brown or Jackie Wilson, all deceased legends who made their marks in the 1960s and before.
Any attempt to narrow all of the above names down to a small number and then explain why certain legends are omitted would be met with serious debate and possibly even questions about one’s credibility as an arbiter of R&B music.
That said, as with the real Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota (bearing the carved images of former presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln), there can only be four on the Mt. Rushmore of R&B.
Usher’s bold assertion then begs the question: do you agree that he or the others he mentioned belong on such a monument?
Who would qualify for your four immortalized R&B carvings atop its greatest monument?
(Note: while the inclusion of the four presidents on the real Mt. Rushmore represented each man’s unique role in the nation’s birth, its growth, its development and its preservation, you don’t have to follow that script in picking the four musicians atop R&B’s Mt. Rushmore.)
And for the record, since we’re opening up the candidates to include living legends as well as those who are deceased, my picks would be James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder. (And I humbly submit that no explanations are needed for those four names!)
Feel free to provide yours in the comments below or on any of the social media feeds where this article is posted. And be nice (try not to throw too many poisonous darts when critiquing mine or anyone else’s picks, including Usher’s)!
DJRob (he/him/his), who will definitely be covering Usher’s Super Bowl halftime show next February, is a freelance music blogger from the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop, rock and (sometimes) country genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on X (formerly Twitter) at @djrobblog and on Meta’s Threads.
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