Dean Dixon: Negro at Home, Maestro Abroad is a fantastic read! Dr. Jones has succeeded in re-creating the life story of an accomplished, virtually forgotten American musician who because of his race had no choice but to leave his homeland for unprecedented success abroad. I am particularly delighted to learn more about the life and challenges of a man, who for me prior to this book only existed as a symbolic role model.
Dean Dixon gave us hope. Despite the realities of U.S. life in the ’60s, his remarkable international career proved to every aspiring black conductor what could be accomplished. When the New York Philharmonic invited him back in the early ’70s to conduct on their subscription series, no one in his audience could have been more proud than I was.
For me Dean Dixon served as a powerful example both positively and negatively. Positively in that he was clearly a great conductor and had made a career in the field when it was almost not possible to do so. Negatively in that I always hoped that I would be able to work without moving to Europe, that is was possible now because of pioneers like Dean Dixon, to have an American career. All of us carry his story and his inspiration with us wherever we go.
It’s relatively rare to have a musical biography come from a scholar and researcher who is also a conductor; but such is the case with Dean Dixon: Negro at Home, Maestro Abroad, which outlines the saga of a great (but largely unheralded) Afro-American conductor.
This first full-length biography of Dixon follows his evolution from his early achievements as a budding conductor, his difficult decision to leave America for better opportunities in Europe and his eventual return to this country to serve as a role model for aspiring Black classical musicians.
It’s a cut above most biographical treatments, holding great social and political insights: thus, it belongs in not just music book collections, but the holdings of civil rights libraries and libraries strong in Afro-American history and the rise of black musicians.
Dixon ‘s internationally-acclaimed career paved the way for fellow Black musicians (classically trained or not) and created an atmosphere whereby these musicians could achieve their goals at home in America without having to follow in his footsteps of leaving their homeland in pursuit of recognition sans prejudice.
From the special challenges of an interracial marriage which went above and beyond family acceptance (“Their major objection to Vivian’s marriage to Dixon was not solely because Dixon was Black. Their concern was more of how others would react to their marriage. For as long as they could remember, Vivian wanted to be a professional pianist and travel around the world performing the masterworks. She had the confidence, and her success at Juilliard proved she had the talent. They believed her marriage to Dixon would prevent her from fulfilling her dream.”) to involvements of the media in Dixon’s career and his special challenges in gaining recognition abroad and then at home (“The fact that none of the major recording companies were sending Dixon invitations to record for them made it even more paramount that any recording he did with his Frankfurt orchestra had to be of the highest quality.”), Dean Dixon: Negro at Home, Maestro Abroad goes far beyond
the anticipated survey of one man’s life to consider exactly what stood in his way, how he handled career obstacles, and how his choices directly led to an improved atmosphere for those who followed in his footsteps.
It’s this focus and attention to specifics that make Dean Dixon: Negro at Home, Maestro Abroad such a powerful read, highly recommended for not just classical music collections, but any interested in racial issues and history in America.