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Rodrick Dixon

Opera singer Rodrick Dixon was born on June 22, 1966 in Queens, New York. Dixon attended the Mannes School of Music and graduated with his B.M. degree in 1989 and his M.M. degree in 1991. During each summer while at the Mannes School, Dixon also studied at L’Academia Musicale Ottorino in Assisi, Italy and l’Ecole d’Art Americain-Palais de Fontainebleau, France.

Dixon trained in the Lyric Opera Center for American Artists, where he appeared in many productions, most notably as the Prince in the 1992 world premiere of Bright Sheng’s The Song of Majnun. Other notable operatic debuts were with the Portland Opera Les Contes d’Hoffmann (1995); the Columbus Opera’s world premiere of Vanqui as Prince (2000); the Virginia Opera as Sportin’ Life in Porgy & Bess (2000); the Michigan Opera Theater as Tonio in La Fille Du Regiment (2005); and the Todi Music Festival as Lenski in Eugene Onegin (2007). Under the baton of Maestro James Conlon, he debuted at the Cincinnati May Festival (2005); the Los Angeles Opera in Tannhauser (2007); the filming of Der Zwerg (2008); and the Ravinia Festival with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (2011). Dixon’s orchestral debuts include: the Chicago Symphony Millennium Park (2004), May Festival (2005), Philadelphia Orchestra (2008), the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the title role of Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex (2009) and Atlanta Symphony (2010). He then joined the Metropolitan Opera roster for Armida (2010-2011) and Rodelinda (2011). From 1998 to 2013, Dixon performed with the Tenors Cook, Dixon and Young (formerly of the Three Mo’ Tenors), filming multiple PBS-TV specials and touring the U.S.

In 2002, Dixon and his wife, opera singer, Alfreda Burke, performed in “Too Hot to Handel: The Jazz-Gospel Messiah” at Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre and the Detroit Opera House. Other performances by Dixon and Burke include PBS specials Hallelujah Broadway (Prague, 2010) and Miss World 2012 from Inner Mongolia, China. They have appeared as regular guest artists in Old St. Patrick Church’s (Chicago) production, Siamsa na nGael, at Symphony Center and Deck the Halls Christmas Concerts. In 2013, Dixon and Burke co-produced and recorded the new show,Songs of a Dream, with the Auditorium Theatre for a U.S tour.

Dixon’s musical recordings include: Arthaus Musik Zemlinsky’s Der Zwerg; Recorded Music of the African Diaspora and Hallelujah Broadway (2010). He has also appeared on numerous television programs, including My Favorite Broadway: The Love Songs at City Center (2000), The Mark Twain Awards Honoring Whoopi Goldberg at Kennedy Center (2002), the United States. Air Force 60th Anniversary Gala (2007).

Dixon received a number of grants, scholarships and awards, including the Richard F. Gold Career Grant from the Shoshana Foundation, the Jan Peerce Scholarship, Links Foundation Scholarship, a multi-year grant from the Osceola Foundation and the Mary Dawson Art Guild “Tenor of the Year” Award (1991). He has served as a consultant with the Cincinnati Symphony and Old St. Patrick’s Church (Chicago), and been on several boards including the Chicago 2016 Olympic Bid Committee (Arts and Culture Advisory Committee).

Opera singer Rodrick Dixon was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on August 20, 2013.

Accession Number

A2013.230

Sex

Male

Interview Date

8/20/2013

Last Name

Dixon

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

Edward

Occupation
Schools

Mannes College of Music

Harlem School of the Arts

Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts

First Name

Rodrick

Birth City, State, Country

New York

HM ID

DIX03

Favorite Season

Summer

State

New York

Favorite Vacation Destination

London, England

Favorite Quote

The Truth Is What It Is And What It's Not.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Interview Description
Birth Date

6/22/1966

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Fruit

Short Description

Opera singer Rodrick Dixon (1966 - ) has appeared as a soloist in a number of operas, as well as performing with the tenor group, Cook, Dixon & Young and his wife, concert artist, Alfreda Burke.

Employment

DiBurke, Inc.

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Rodrick Dixon's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Rodrick Dixon lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Rodrick Dixon describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Rodrick Dixon talks about his mother's childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Rodrick Dixon talks about his mother's education and her desire to become an opera singer

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Rodrick Dixon describes his father's family history

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Rodrick Dixon talks about his father's childhood and careers

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Rodrick Dixon talks about his father's education and ministry

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Rodrick Dixon describes how his parents met, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Rodrick Dixon describes how his parents met, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Rodrick Dixon describes his parents' personalities and who he takes after

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Rodrick Dixon talks about his siblings

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Rodrick Dixon describes the South Ozone Park neighborhood in Queens, New York where he grew up

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Rodrick Dixon describes the sights, sounds, and smells of his childhood in South Ozone Park, Queens, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Rodrick Dixon describes how his parents influenced him musically, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Rodrick Dixon describes how his parents influenced him musically, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Rodrick Dixon talks about his early exposure to famous black classical musicians

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Rodrick Dixon describes his experience in elementary school

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Rodrick Dixon talks about his passion for baseball and the players who inspired him

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Rodrick Dixon talks about playing baseball during his childhood

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Rodrick Dixon talks about how music, baseball, and church life shaped him as a child

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Rodrick Dixon talks about some of his baseball mentors and himself as a student

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Rodrick Dixon describes learning to play the piano

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Rodrick Dixon talks about attending the Brooklyn Boys Chorus at Long Island University in New York City, New York in 1977

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Rodrick Dixon reflects on his musical education at P.S. 124 in Queens, New York and the Brooklyn Boys Chorus at Long Island University in New York City

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Rodrick Dixon describes his experiences in the Brooklyn Boys Chorus at Long Island University in New York City in 1977

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Rodrick Dixon recalls having an epiphany about his musical talent in junior high school

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Rodrick Dixon recalls enrolling at the High School of Music and Art in Harlem, New York in 1980

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Rodrick Dixon reflects on his voice teachers and the value of classical voice training

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Rodrick Dixon describes his development as a singer at The High School of Music and Art in New York City, New York

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Rodrick Dixon recalls enrolling at the Mannes College of Music in New York City, New York in 1984

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Rodrick Dixon describes his experience at Mannes College of Music in New York City, New York

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Rodrick Dixon describes his experience studying music in Fontainebleau, France and meeting Leonard Bernstein

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Rodrick Dixon recalls a conversation he had with Leonard Bernstein in Fontainebleau, France

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Rodrick Dixon recalls performing five songs in Chinese by composer Bright Sheng in Fontainebleau, France

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Rodrick Dixon talks about learning foreign languages as a singer

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Rodrick Dixon talks about the role of dialect in operatic singing

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Rodrick Dixon describes how learning foreign cultures and traditions affect his performance

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Rodrick Dixon shares his philosophy of musical phrasing, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Rodrick Dixon shares his philosophy of musical phrasing, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Rodrick Dixon shares his opinion on the label "crossover artist," pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Rodrick Dixon shares his opinion on the label "crossover artist," pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Rodrick Dixon describes his audition for the Lyric Opera Center for American Artists in Chicago, Illinois in 1991

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Rodrick Dixon recalls performing Bright Sheng's opera "The Song of Majnun" at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Illinois in 1992

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Rodrick Dixon describes the importance of classical music in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Rodrick Dixon describes his decision to study at the Lyric Opera Center for American Artists rather than performing in higher-paying opera roles

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Rodrick Dixon talks about his experience at the Lyric Opera Center for American Artists in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Rodrick Dixon describes his career as a singer and a substitute teacher after leaving the Lyric Opera Center for American Artists in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Rodrick Dixon recalls meeting his wife, HistoryMaker Alfreda Burke

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Rodrick Dixon talks about courting HistoryMaker Alfreda Burke while they each performed in different cities

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Rodrick Dixon talks about the stamina and technique required to perform on Broadway and in opera

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Rodrick Dixon talks about his experience in the ensemble of "Ragtime" on Broadway

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Rodrick Dixon describes returning to Chicago, Illinois to sing the role of Booker T. Washington in "Ragtime"

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Rodrick Dixon describes the origin of the Three Mo' Tenors

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Rodrick Dixon describes his experience performing with Victor Trent Cook and Thomas Young as the Three Mo' Tenors, and as Cook, Dixon and Young

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Rodrick Dixon talks about The Three Tenors

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Rodrick Dixon talks about the success of the Three Mo' Tenors, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Rodrick Dixon talks about the success of the Three Mo' Tenors, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Rodrick Dixon shares his opinion about why the Three Mo' Tenors cannot be duplicated

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Rodrick Dixon talks about the success of "Too Hot to Handel"

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Rodrick Dixon talks about "Hallelujah Broadway"

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Rodrick Dixon talks about how he avoids stage fright

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Rodrick Dixon describes meeting James Conlon and returning to a career in opera

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Rodrick Dixon talks about performing in Alexander Zemlinsky's "Der Zwerg"

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Rodrick Dixon talks about James Conlon's Recovered Voices Project

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Rodrick Dixon describes the different types of operatic tenors, pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Rodrick Dixon describes the different types of operatic tenors, pt. 2

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Rodrick Dixon talks about the reception to his performance as the title character in Alexander Zemlinsky's opera "Der Zwerg," pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Rodrick Dixon talks about the reception to his performance as the title character in Alexander Zemlinsky's opera "Der Zwerg," pt. 2

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Rodrick Dixon describes his work with the Young Musicians Choral Orchestra, pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Rodrick Dixon describes his work with the Young Musicians Choral Orchestra, pt. 2

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Rodrick Dixon describes his experience at the Music and Medicine Symposium at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio

Tape: 8 Story: 9 - Rodrick Dixon talks about "Siamsa na nGael" in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Rodrick Dixon talks about Daniel O'Connell and Frederick Douglass

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Rodrick Dixon reflects on the travel opportunities that he has had in his career

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - Rodrick Dixon talks about his career plans and Nathaniel Dett's "The Ordering of Moses"

Tape: 9 Story: 4 - Rodrick Dixon describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 9 Story: 5 - Rodrick Dixon reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 9 Story: 6 - Rodrick Dixon talks about professional organizations for black musicians and how African American musical traditions are viewed within the classical world

Tape: 9 Story: 7 - Rodrick Dixon talks about his family

Tape: 9 Story: 8 - Rodrick Dixon talks about his marriage to HistoryMaker Alfreda Burke

Tape: 9 Story: 9 - Rodrick Dixon talks about DiBurke, Inc.

Tape: 10 Story: 1 - Rodrick Dixon reflects on how his parents feel about his career

Tape: 10 Story: 2 - Rodrick Dixon describes how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 10 Story: 3 - Rodrick Dixon narrates his photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$5

DAStory

7$2

DATitle
Rodrick Dixon recalls having an epiphany about his musical talent in junior high school
Rodrick Dixon shares his philosophy of musical phrasing, pt. 2
Transcript
Okay. So now how long did you, now did you do all of junior high school at--$$No. I was only in Brooklyn Boys Chorus [at Long Island University in New York City, New York] for one year.$$Okay.$$My voice changed at thirteen. I was back in junior high, I was back in junior high school, I wanna say P.S. 226 [sic, J.H.S. 226 Virgil L. Grissom in Queens, New York City, New York], is that where I went to junior high school? I can see the school but I'm not sure 'cause--(unclear) (simultaneous)$$I can tell you.$$(Unclear) (simultaneous)$$In a second here. Let's see--$$Yeah.$$One, yeah, 226.$$Yeah, there you go.$$Yeah.$$Yeah, right off the conduit. House, Howard Beach.$$Okay.$$Yeah. Cross Bay Boulevard, 226, number 7 bus.$$Okay.$$Ride it right past Aqueduct Racetrack. Yeah, my voice changed at thirteen or was beginning to change, and then all of a sudden grades seven it was changing, grade eight something happened. A chorus, Mr. Vecchioni [ph.] heard me singing in the tenor section in chorus. And he walked up to me while we were singing and warming up and he stood next to me and he listened to me and he singled me out and he says you have a very beautiful voice. My voice had already changed at thirteen. And let me say something about that. I sang throughout the whole vocal change. I was a boy soprano, the voice changed and it dropped and I kept singing through church so I would crack while I was doing my solos. The solos I used to sing as a boy soprano now my voice wasn't acting right but I never got discouraged because they never said anything negative about my voice cracking at church services. So it seemed normal to me. But I always had my baseball glove and my hardball in it, with my little rubber band wrapped around it when I went to church. So I would sing, crack all the time I was thirteen and it was horrible. I can remember now, it was just horrible, but I never was discouraged 'cause I, you just get up and sing and then you sit down. Then I would go play the piano during service and didn't think anything about it, and never got discouraged. But at 17 at 226, Vecchioni heard me and he said I had a, a beautiful voice and they gave me this torch song that Frank Sinatra used to sing, "My Way". And I sang that at one of the concerts and that was grades, grade, eighth grade 226 choral concert, I sang "My Way." Then all of a sudden the light bulb cut on. It's funny it didn't really cut on at Brooklyn Boys Chorus 'cause I was still being talented and a boy soprano was just normal to me.$$So you, you considered that was just part of the chorus--$$Yeah. I was just--$$--and not a, not having an exceptional voice necessarily.$$I had an exceptional voice 'cause I had solos.$$Okay.$$But the light bulbs weren't on. I was just doing what I do, you know, what I mean.$$Yeah.$$I didn't, I, it was until Vecchioni singled me out in eighth grade, then he said, "Sing 'My Way'", that I, that all of sudden something flipped. You would think that it would have flipped at Brooklyn Boys Chorus with all the traveling, the movie, singing the solos, singing "Soon and Very Soon" and sitting down playing the key of F with the Brooklyn Boys Chorus while we were traveling doing concerts, it didn't happen when I was twelve. It happened when I was fourteen at 226, ""My Way" in that moment, light bulb cuts on. And maybe because I was two years older and I realized something special was happening.$Did, did you, what, what, what was your first formal training I guess in, in phrasing and in interpreting a song?$$It was something that my parents [Dorothy Jean Black Dixon and Samuel Edward Dixon] were doing, and my father sometimes would talk about it but as far as I can remember, it had something to do with the divine intervention. He would always say that. And, of course, my, and my mother was always divine, (laughter) you know. So that terminology would always follow me every time I walked into a musical environment. Where is the divine intervention? So I developed a sense of this because I, this is the paradox for me right now. As a classical, operatically trained artist, I am taught to sing legato at all times because that's the, that is the way in which one can actually be heard past an orchestra because once that, people in the house hear your sound, you don't want your sound to stop, you want it to continue to carry in the hall because you have many different instruments with many different colors coming and girding up, girding the sound as it moves forward into a house if you're singing acoustically and you're singing classical repertoire in a foreign language.$$And just, just for the record "legato" means?$$Legato means a continuous sound that doesn't stop.$$Hmm.$$Just straight line of sound that just doesn't stop. You can do this, this would not be legato: ah-ah-ah-ah, those are just different notes with spaces in between. (Singing) just continuous sound. And that sound travels. And once people hear your voice they can distinguish it from all the other seventy instruments if they're all playing at the same time, or pockets of instruments that are playing at the same time, strings or woodwinds, so forth and so on. We're taught to sing legato because we wanna have a legato line in all the languages in classical music because that's the essence of beautiful singing. Round sound, supported sound, with the body under the sound, the diaphragm, sing legato. But what I've discovered, and which is what my father would talk about, is that the divine intervention, you say well that's nice if you wanna be technical, but if you wanna move people, you have to figure out where the pauses are. And you can't sing all the notes because if you're speaking to people in English, you don't have to sing legato to move them, you just have to move them. So you take pauses, you think more like an actor. You, you, you find in a line like, 'Somewhere' [from "West Side Story" by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim] that I sing in "Hallelujah Broadway". He sings a line, (singing) "There's a place (pauses) for us," but that's not legato, you took a break and there's no legato line. But for the camera, that's special because the camera captures the gleam of the eye. Opera singers will do this, (singing) "There's a place for us, somewhere a-" that's the operatic tradition of singing sounds and creating of a legato line. But (singing) "There's (pause) a place for us," and that's the paradox because the more you become keen on the eighty percent which is nonverbal and you learn that from the English side of your artistic gifts, then you have to then transfer pauses and pregnant pauses and lift pauses in classical music, which is a slight lift of silence into the next line, into the classical tradition then you have to hide it and be very careful 'cause you still have to sing legato but you have to break up where you're gonna not sing legato to become more influential in the moment to move people. And that's where you have to be very artistic with the European side and their traditions and, and, and connect your artistic growth as a human being moving people as an artist in whatever you do, whether it be classical, jazz, blues, or gospel. And that's where the geniuses live. They live in the pockets of silence. They move space where there's nothing going around, and then reformulate their idea in such a way to get you the pitch emotionally or mentally, one way of the other, and then they get you to open up. And all of a sudden you become engrossed in the moment artistically. And that's what my father calls the divine intervention. And that's the paradox, technique against the organic. But the organic is technical because it's like jazz, its improvisation. You don't know where you're going but you know that whatever you're doing matters. Technique means everything is planned, it matters because it's planned and it's serious. But somewhere in the middle, there has to be moving people and that's the divine intervention of marrying the two. So for me, we spent a lot of time accepting that I'm no longer calling it breaking the rules, I'm just calling it being a mature musician who's serious about trying to take the moment to the next human level of experience.