The Reverend Nathaniel Dixon, Jr.
The Reverend Nathaniel Dixon, Jr.
Let us remember with thanksgiving the life and ministry of Rev. Nathaniel Dixon, Jr., 72, who died surrounded by his wife and children on Thursday, May 5, 2022.
Nathaniel Dixon, Jr., lovingly known by his family as “the silver fox,” was born on March 19, 1950 in Richmond, VA. He grew up in the Pelham Parkway Houses (Bronx, NY) with his parents and sister. As a youth he enjoyed competing in sports and discovered a deep passion and aptitude for music, developing a love for playing the saxophone that would last a lifetime. He attended the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan, now known as LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts.
Nathaniel attended Winston Salem State University (WSSU) in North Carolina, from which he graduated with a BS in music education in 1972. It was there he met Norma Jean Leak who would become his best friend, confidant and wife. They moved to NYC and lived in Tracy Towers in the Bronx across the street from a park because, “the park had a lot of beautiful trees so Norma would feel at home there.”
Nathaniel went on to earn an MA degree in Music Education from Columbia University in 1977. He spent the early years of his career working as a music teacher for the NYC Board of Education by day and as a jazz band leader and saxophonist by night, playing in music venues all over Harlem. He spent summers teaching summer school and touring. Nathaniel was a long time member of BMI, a musical composer, arranger and jazz saxophonist. In the 1980s he founded an independent record label, Saxrack Records, LLC, with a catalogue of seven self-produced studio recordings.
In 1991 Nathaniel earned a second master’s degree in educational administration at the Bank Street College of Education in Manhattan and went on to work as assistant principal at a high school in Yonkers, NY while continuing his musical pursuits. He retired from education in 2005 with more than 30 years of service.
The Dixon family had been faithful members of Salem UMC in Harlem for many years when, in 1998, Nathaniel felt called by God to ministry. He served as a lay speaker and lay leader, and completed his MDiv at Drew Theological Seminary in 2002. Nathaniel became a provisional elder in the New York Conference in 2005 and was ordained a full elder in 2008. In 2006 he was appointed to St Stephen’s UMC in the Bronx, where he served until he retired in 2017.
As a pastor he was dedicated to the spiritual growth and educational achievement of his parishioners and community. He served as the founder and director of the Saturday Music Academy and executive director of Saxrack Learning Center, Inc., which taught language, media and the arts to youth and seniors from 2005-2016. In 2008 Rev. Dixon and a group of dedicated individuals began a fundraising campaign to restore the façade of the church, which was completed and celebrated in October 2010.
In 2011, no longer comfortable using the term jazz to describe his creative and spiritual maturation, Nathaniel coined and trademarked the term “GOJA” which he felt more fully described his appreciation for jazz and his profound love of God. He recorded a love concert entitled “Three Nights of Riveting GOJA” at St. Stephen’s UMC under his Saxrack publishing label.
In addition to his dedication to jazz music and ministry, Nathaniel loved to eat. He loved dressing up and topping it off with a stylish hat, of which he had a large collection. He loved walking and being near the ocean, watching movies and sharing his critiques, and he was an avid reader of Black history. He looked forward to the Dixon/Smith family summer beach vacations as well as leading a weekly Bible study at home with his family. Most of all he enjoyed being a husband and father. Nathaniel was a great encourager and not a day went by without his teaching you several lessons, whether you wanted him to or not. He was a man of enormous faith, drive and conviction, who loved people and God above all else.
Nathaniel is survived by his wife, Norma, and his children, Ayana and Nathaniel III, as well as by many cousins, nieces and nephews. He is also survived by numerous other family members, friends, former students, parishioners, colleagues in music and ministry, and fans. He was predeceased by his parents and sister.
A Celebration of Life was held on Friday, May 13, 2022 at the Nelson Funeral Home Chapel, 1021 East Washington Street, Rockingham, NC 28379. Gifts in memory of Rev. Nathaniel Dixon can be made to any of the following: