Gospel mainstay Jessy Dixon dies at 73


CHICAGO — Gospel legend Jessy Dixon, a singer and songwriter who spent years with the Gaither Homecoming Band, died Sept. 26 at his Chicago home. He was 73.

His death was announced by his sister, Miriam Dixon, who said he had been sick at the time of his death but declined to give more details.

Dixon, who many credited with popularizing Gospel music, spent more than 50 years in the industry, including an eight-year stint as the opening act for contemporary pop favorite Paul Simon. For a time the San Antonio native also played keyboard with Earth Wind and Fire and guitarist Phillip Upchurch.

While he was a notable vocalist who could electrify the stage, he was also a prolific songwriter whose work was performed by Cher, Diana Ross, Natalie Cole, Amy Grant and jazz and rhythm and blues singer Randy Crawford. Among the 200 titles he penned were "Sit At His Feet and be Blessed," "These Old Heavy Burdens" and "I Love to Praise His Name."

As part of his collaboration with Gaither, Dixon often sang solos, highlighting such songs as "It's a Highway to Heaven," Operator," "Leaving On My Mind," "Blood Bought Church," "The Wicked Shall Cease Their Troubling," "Lord Prepare Me to Be a Sanctuary" and "I Am Redeemed."

"No where else in the world will you find such a delightful, pure, and honest performance, ingeniously combining brilliant vocalizing, and high energy excitement as when you listen to Jessy Dixon," the International Herald Tribune, the global edition of The New York Times, once wrote. "When your feet begin to tap with the beat, the desire to get up and dance becomes overwhelming, and maybe a tear comes to your eyes; that is when Jessy Dixon's performance has reached it's pinnacle."

Dixon began singing and playing piano at age 5 and early on aspired to be a classical pianist. He continued to follow his passion for music after his he moved to Chicago. In 1972 his career took a dramatic turn when his group, The Jessy Dixon Singers, performed for the Newport Jazz Festival at the Radio City Music Hall. At the conclusion of their number, the group was asked to do four encores. Among those with whom he found favor in the audience was Simon.

After that concert, Simon asked Dixon to join his band for a performance on Saturday Night Live. He later went on to accompany Simon as he performed across the United States, France, Europe, Canada, Scandinavia, Israel and Japan. During their professional relationship, Simon recorded two albums, "Live Rhymin" in 1974 and "Still Crazy After All These Years," which debuted the following year.

"Jessy has a rare and joyous musical gift," Simon once said of Dixon. "I have loved gospel music and during the years I have been associated with Jessy my appreciation of the gospel has grown."

Following his affiliation with Simon, Dixon embarked on his own career and joined forces with the popular Gaither Band. He went on to produce five gold records and was nominated for seven Grammy awards.

Fellow Gaither performer Mark Lowry announced his passing on Twitter.

"He was a great man and communicator," Lowry wrote.

In the 1990s he released "I Am Redeemed," which stayed on the top 10 music charts for an unparalleled five years, his website said.

For Dixon, an ordained minister, 2008 proved to be a standout year as he earned the coveted "Radio Mike Award" as International Soul Male Artist of 2008. That same year he was inducted into the "Christian Music Hall of Fame."

In addition to his sister, Dixon is survived by a brother.

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