Jessey Dixon, most noted as a Gospel legend, but influential in popular music, has passed away. The star, best known outside of Gospel circles for performing with Paul Simon, wrote songs for a number of pop music greats, including Cher, Diana Ross, and Randy Crawford – and performed with Earth Wind and Fire as a keyboardist.
Jessy Dixon, a singer and songwriter who introduced his energetic style of gospel music to wider audiences by serving as pop singer Paul Simon’s opening act, died Monday. He was 73…
During a more than 50-year career, Dixon wrote songs for several popular singers, including jazz and rhythm and blues singer Randy Crawford. He later wrote songs performed by Cher, Diana Ross, Natalie Cole and Amy Grant.
But it was for his gospel singing – religious music that combined the rhythmic beat of blues, jazz and soul – that Dixon first gained attention. It was during an appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1972 with his Jessy Dixon Singers that Dixon first came to Simon’s attention. For the next eight years, Dixon toured with the pop icon, collaborating on Simon’s `Live Rhymin’ Simon’ and `Still Crazy’ albums.
Dixon also played keyboard with Earth Wind and Fire and guitarist Phillip Upchurch…
Born March 12, 1938, in San Antonio, Dixon’s professional compass was set by gospel music legend James Cleveland, who heard Dixon’s teen group perform at a theatre in the south Texas city. Dixon said Cleveland liked the group, but he liked Dixon more and persuaded him to move to Chicago to join his group, the Gospel Chimes, as both a singer and pianist.
Chicago’s South Side was the place to be for a gospel musician, especially in the early 1960s.
“Going to church was like going to school,” Dixon said. At church, he heard the likes of Mahalia Jackson and blues pioneer Thomas A. Dorsey, who is credited with creating modern gospel singing.
“Reading his (Dorsey’s) music and studying it, he was the one who wrote for Tennessee Ernie Ford, Elvis Presley and Pat Boone,” Dixon said. “All these people were singing his music and were making it commercial.”
Dixon credited the creativity of artists like percussionist Maurice White and blues singer Willie Dixon, no relation, inspired him to compose. He started with choral music for Chicago’s Thompson Community Singers, for which he sat at the keyboards. Several of his early songs have become classics, sung in churches across America, including: “Sit At His Feet and be Blessed,” “These Old Heavy Burdens” and “I Love to Praise His Name.”…