Jessy Dixon: The giant of gospel

Thursday 1st February 1996

He's worked with everybody from James Cleveland to Paul Simon and down the decades been acknowledged as one of the giants of gospel. Jessy Dixon spoke at length to Mike Rimmer.

Continued from page 1

After becoming a Christian, Dixon came into contact with Andrae Crouch in the late 70s. Jessy recalls how he met Andrae: "It was actually a secular promoter who knew of me from playing organ with Earth Wind And Fire and Phillip Upchurch and people like that. I was playing around Chicago as a session musician and I was an organist. I never would sing the songs I would just play for Motown Records and people. The day I gave my heart to the Lord, this promoter decided he wanted to have a gospel concert. He didn't know I had just given my heart to the Lord, he thought I was going to come on and sing 'Peace In The Valley' and 'Precious Lord', something like Elvis Presley would do. But before I sang I gave my testimony how I'd given my heart to the Lord and I was saved and I went on and on. I turned around and Andrae Crouch was in the wings crying. When I came off he embraced me and said, 'Now you're ready to sing for the Lord and I want to produce your album.'"

At the time Andrae Crouch was one of the hottest properties on the American Christian music circuit. Renowned as a writer, producer and arranger he worked with the best session musicians and had created his own fusion of gospel and Earth Wind And Fire-style funk. Dixon signed to Light Records and Crouch and Bill Maxwell produced a series of albums that stand out as some of Jessy's most anointed. Currently Dixon is promoting an album of re-recordings of some of those classic songs from the 70s and 80s. The album is called 'Songs To Get You Through' and I wonder about the title. Jessy explains, "The title comes from all the letters and phone calls that I have received where people say that a song got them through a particular situation. It was just so natural to put that as the title because that's what the songs had been for people."

One of Dixon's most popular songs is "The Day You Set Me Free". I wanted to know what had drawn Jessy to that song. "That's one of my favourite songs! Knowing and loving the Word of God, that song says he keeps all of his promises. When I found out that you can stake your life on any promise that you find in the Word then you can walk in freedom every day over any situation. That song means so much to me and to other people because I hear that all the time, people saying that song got them through."

Like many songwriters, Dixon has discovered that some songs have been very good to him, travelling to different parts of the world ahead of him. I ask Jessy to pick out a couple of songs that are special to him. "'I Love To Praise His Name' has to be one," answers Jessy. "It amazes me when I go around the world that people are singing this song and don't even know I wrote it." This only goes to prove that lack of knowledge can be a dangerous thing! The song ended up in a movie They Live' and Jessy ended up suing Universal Studios because they thought the song was Public Domain. Another of his favourites is "God Can Do Anything But Fail". "I've been to African countries and heard people doing that song," Dixon says. "And that blesses me that it's reached other continents with the message that God cannot fail. They've caught on to the message of what the song is trying to tell them and it's ministered to them. I also heard them singing 'I Love To Praise His Name' in Italy and I remember thinking, 'Who brought that song here?'"

Jessy Dixon has performed all over the world but since he is sitting in a German hotel room, I want to know how European audiences differ from their American counterparts. He thinks for a moment before responding, "They want real gospel music, the older and newer songs - we can sing 'He's Got The Whole World In His Hands' and then 'Destined To Win'. In America you just wouldn't do that, you're either going to do straight contemporary or whatever but in Europe you can mix it up and I think that's a full menu of what gospel should be." That seems to reflect the direction of Dixon's career where he has taken elements of gospel and married them to contemporary music. "I know I am called to do that because it comes so easily to me and I flow better that way when I am marrying all the forms together."

So what went down well tonight? "One of the big songs tonight was 'Destined To Win' which I recently re-recorded with the choir because so many young people like that song. That song was presented to me when I was with the Benson Company. The writer of the song (Ed Degarmo) wrote it one Easter and he called me and asked me to fly to Memphis, Tennessee to hear it. He wasn't sure about it so he presented it to me and I knew straight away that there was an anointing on the song that it was a strong song and it would never die."

In 1978 Andrae Crouch had produced his album 'It's Alright Now' and it had sold so well worldwide until Jessy was getting exposure in other countries outside of the USA. As a result he got offers from other record companies and he decided to move from Light to Benson. In the 80s, Jessy moved into contemporary Christian music working with Degarmo And Key, even going as far as dueting on another recorded version of "Destined To Win" for one of their albums! His live performance continued to be characterised by passion and anointing as witnessed by a rare performance in England at Greenbelt in the early 80s.

Thinking about Dixon's live performances, I want to know how he prepared to minister in concert, with a very tight schedule and often other business to attend to during the day with the media. Jessy says, "I prepare earlier in the day. I have a Bible study and I pray and read. I try to prepare myself so I won't be rushing before the concert to get ready." What about the anointing that flows through his performances? Jessy has a very down to earth grasp of the truth when he responds, "The Bible says we have all been anointed with the power and presence of God and if we expect that and look for it then you can sing with the knowledge that you have the presence of God with you. That knowledge gives you so much confidence because then you know it's not your power but it's the power of God that is using you. You're just his vessel."

Jessy gives me an example of how the anointing lifted his own performance that evening. He describes how he was feeling earlier: "I was very exhausted because we've been on this world tour for months and I just felt very tired. I really didn't feel that I had anything to add to what the Lord could do tonight. I thought I'll let the choir sing and I'll just introduce each song and I was dragging up to the stage. The next thing I knew I was singing and the concert went on for three hours and the people wouldn't let me go. I am wide awake right now because the anointing came on me so strong and lifted me up out of myself."

Jessy talks to me for nearly an hour and there is no doubt that he is indeed wide awake, talking 16-to-the-dozen with enthusiasm and humour as we cover his career. And it's not just singing that takes up Dixon's time. There's also television! Okay, so it was singing that got him on television in the first place with appearances on a wide spectrum of programmes from Saturday Night Live and the Oprah Winfrey Show through to The Billy Graham Hour Of Decision and the very first Rock Gospel Show. But now there's his TV show, Celebrate With Jessy Dixon. So how did that happen? Like so many of Jessy's opportunities, it was as the result of a live performance. Comments Jessy, "I was in Kingston, Jamaica performing and met a Christian businessman who owned a TV station and he sent word that he would like to have me on TV and give me my own TV programme. I thought he was kidding but he was legitimate and I've been on ever since." Dixon hosts the show, introduces guests and of course sings. "I try to feature many different forms of gospel music," Jessy says, "to educate people so they can be appreciative and aware of how broad gospel music can be."

As well as all the entertaining and concert ministry, Jessy is well rooted in his local church. In fact he was ordained in 1982 and became the Reverend Jessy Dixon. Does this mean that people call him Reverend? He laughs and then replies, "Not really. It was at a time when I'd go on the road with Paul Simon and then come home for a while and I was teaching a Bible study group. I love the Bible and I love to teach and I love to learn and so after all these studies, the church said that I qualified to be a Reverend. So they ordained me to my surprise and amazement, so I am Rev Jessy Dixon." So does this mean that he has to behave himself? Again he laughs and affirms, "That's right." Generally, Dixon is based in his home church during the week but most weekends he is booked and performing out of town.

The church is charismatic and has been experiencing the move of the Holy Spirit which some call the Toronto Blessing. Jessy himself has been touched by God in new ways. "It was really strange," he begins to explain. "At first I was wary of it and I didn't know if it was necessary or whether I believed it. I was in Chicago ministering in a church and I had preached and at the end of the message, there were several people who'd asked me to pray for them for healing. While I was praying for them this laughter came on me, it was like laughter at the Devil, it was like a laugh of victory. Then I understood what it was all about. As I prayed and laid hands on the people they would go out in the Spirit and some of them would come up laughing and today many of them are healed."

That move of the Spirit continues in Jessy's church today and he reflects that, "The Lord did that in me because I was so sceptical of it all to prove to me that it was real. It made me see that you cannot control the Lord. You may think that you know all about him and what he's going to do and how and when, so it makes me very sensitive and aware that I don't follow my own programme. This is God's programme. I am here to see that Jesus is glorified and the attention is off me and off the choir and when that happens, everybody has a wonderful time and then you see miracles."

Dixon himself is not a stranger to miracles. Just before he became a Christian God healed him from asthma that could have seriously impaired his impact as a performer. He thinks back before recounting how God intervened in his life. "I was wheezing with asthma and I'd gone to church and an asthma attack came on me so I went home and the pastor came to pray for me. While he was praying I fell asleep and when I woke up he was gone and then I realised I wasn't wheezing and I wondered what had happened. It was like God had operated on me while I was asleep, the wheezing left me and I've never had another asthma attack since. I had to call the pastor to tell him I was healed - he didn't know because I'd been asleep. I had this doctor in Chicago who didn't believe in healing and so I had to go to him and he thought I'd gone bananas and so I asked him to check me out and when he did he realised I was healed."

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Reader Comments

Posted by Yvette Samuels in Florida @ 05:07 on Aug 2 2019

I am amazed with Jessie’s performance and gospel songs. I can not stop listening to him. I wanted to learn everything about him . I feel blessed that I was able to discover his music. I sleep in piece while listening to his songs almost every night . He touches my soul and helps me to walk closer with Jesus. I am able to face my trials and tribulations knowing that my soul is with the almighty God . Thank God for all the blessing We are receiving through Jessie’s legacy

Posted by laura Patten in usa @ 01:08 on Dec 5 2015

Thank you so much for clarifying that, many questions i have had about Jessie's life and you cleared it up, you see, i cannot stop playing his music and believe in my heart that he is reaching down from heaven to comfort me in my time of need as i am going through some difficult, evil times in our family and i kept seeing him in my dreams thats why it's important to know he was totally devoted to God. Blessings my brother !

Posted by Joe in Brooklyn NY @ 23:40 on Feb 19 2015

Oh my goodness, If only our gospel singers today were anointed like that! I am anointed but I am always asking God to anoint me with a double portion of Jessie's anointing when I sing. I believe that God has answered my prayers because I have noticed that some shifting is taking place in my singing and in my playing. Jesus said: He that liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Jessie Dixon is alive and kicking. Thank you Jesus.
Evangelist: Joe "Country" Greenidge.

Posted by Eva A da Silva in Campo Grande - MS (Brasil) @ 12:05 on Jan 26 2013

Muito boa entrevista. Fiquei conhecendo um pouco do testemunho da vida desse grande cantor que descobri em novembro de 2012 e fiquei impressionada pela unção que passa até pelas gravações, mesmo já estando com o Senhor.

Posted by sue baker in cambridge UK @ 00:01 on Dec 19 2010

who is jessy dixon mother and father? I need to know this.

Reply by Rose in london uk @ 20:56 on Aug 9 2014

Jessy and Viola

Sister - Miriam and one late one
Brother - Ralph

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