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.
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As well as the miracles, the move of the Holy Spirit also has an impact on Dixon's ministry. Like many worship leaders he is now experiencing God breaking in powerfully and interrupting what he has planned. Does he feel insecure? "I love it!" Jessy says emphatically. "It makes you grow because you have to be sensitive, you have to be aware. All while you're doing a song you have to be listening and asking, 'What next God?' The people don't know this! They think that you're smart and clever." He breaks off into a chuckle and then continues, "But you're standing there waiting for instructions, waiting to hear what the next song or message or scripture should be and that's exciting to me." All this leaves me thinking that this new spontaneity must keep the choir on their toes. "Oh man!" laughs Jessy. "Especially the new ones because they don't know WHAT we're going to do! But that's what makes them want to stay in the choir because it makes them so sharp and quick. It helps them in every area of their life. It makes their senses keener."
In the 90s Jessy has worked mainly with the reformed Chicago Community Choir to pass on some of his knowledge of gospel music and pass on his wealth of experience to the next generation. He is also investing in younger singers from the choir and encouraging them to go solo in the same way that he did earlier in his career. Dixon is obviously proud that the first song that the choir recorded, "I Am Redeemed", is still on the Billboard chart a year after it was released. They have recorded two live albums and their success means that Jessy is continuously on the road performing with the choir. "We've been to Europe I don't know how many times in the last year; in fact I've done more concerts in Norway than anyone! I made history because I do 30 concerts at one time. Norway was the first country to open up like that and now Germany and Sweden and of course we've finally been to England."
Moving from his music to his personal life, I wonder if he is married. "To my ministry! Every time I think I'm going to get married, it's always marriage or the ministry so I am looking for the person who won't be intimidated by what I'm about." Jessy is reluctant to admit how old he is so I suggest to him that his album covers portray a deceptively youthful Dixon. He laughs, "That's what everybody says!" I decide to let him continue to be cagey about his age!
It's clear from his performances that Dixon is more than just a singer. The gospel is very important to him and often he could be more accurately described as a singing evangelist. He agrees. "I don't plan it that way but I guess my point is why sing the music and not understand what the message is about so I will stop singing and try to exhort the people to understand that what's behind all of this singing and travelling, the hard work and the three hour concerts is more than just trying to make somebody applaud or respond on an emotional level to what we're doing. There's a spiritual level that will go home with them when we're no longer there and that's important to me, that they catch that message and vision of what we're doing and what we're all about."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.