Jessy Dixon, singer, songwriter, pianist
March 12, 1938-September 26, 2011
“I’m Too Close,” live 1988Vodpod videos no longer available.
“I’ll Tell It” (vocals, organ), with Rev. Milton Brunson & The Chicago Community Choir, live, c. early 1960sVodpod videos no longer available.
“Nothing But the Blood,” with the Combined Choir of the Omega Baptist Church, recording, 1967Vodpod videos no longer available.
Though he was already well known in gospel circles, Mr. Dixon reached the mainstream pop-music audience in the 1970s, when he collaborated with Mr. Simon on the albums “Paul Simon in Concert: Live Rhymin’ ” (a follow-up to Mr. Simon’s hit album “There Goes Rhymin’ Simon”) and “Still Crazy After All These Years.” The two musicians had met at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1972, and Mr. Simon was impressed with his vocals.
Mr. Dixon and his group, the Jessy Dixon Singers, toured with Mr. Simon for the next eight years. Mr. Dixon also played keyboard with the funk group Earth, Wind and Fire and collaborated with the guitarist Phil Upchurch.
But these were side projects. It was in the gospel genre that he left an important musical mark, releasing 18 albums between 1964 and 2006 — five of them went gold — and touring worldwide until 2001. After his work with Paul Simon, Mr. Dixon built a large following in Europe.
Born on March 12, 1938, in San Antonio, Texas, Mr. Dixon studied classical piano as a boy and started singing as a teenager at the Refuge Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The son of a porter and a seamstress, he went to a local Catholic college on a scholarship but dropped out to pursue a career as a musician. At 17, he was touring and playing black churches in California, Texas and Louisiana.
It was during a performance at a theater in San Antonio in 1957 that the Rev. James Cleveland, the great Chicago-based gospel musician, discovered Mr. Dixon and asked him to move to Chicago. There he became a pianist and singer with Mr. Cleveland’s group, The Original Chimes.
Mr. Dixon told The Associated Press in 1997 that being a young musician on Chicago’s South Side in the 1960s was like getting an advanced degree in blues and gospel music. “Going to church was like going to school,” he said.
—New York Times, obituary, 9/26/11