Dixon Brothers Biography

Brothers Dorsey Murdock Dixon (14 October 1897, Darlington, South Carolina, USA, d. 16 April 1968, Florida, USA) and Howard Britten Dixon (b. 19 June 1903, Darlington, South Carolina, USA, d. 24 March 1961) were two of seven Dixon children. At the age of 12, Dorsey left school and like his father, William McQuiller Dixon, he worked in the mill of the Darlington Cotton Manufacturing Company. Dorsey, who was playing the guitar at 14, later taught himself to play fiddle and when Howard also learned guitar, they began playing fiddle and guitar duets in the East Rockingham film theatre. In 1929, Dorsey wrote a poem called ‘The Cleveland Schoolhouse Fire’, which he based on the true story of a school fire that, in May 1923, had led to the deaths of 76 children. His mother and Howard, using the tune of ‘Life’s Railway To Heaven’, first popularized the number by singing it at local venues. In 1932, inspired by Jimmie Tarlton (of Darby And Tarlton), the brothers began to play together at local venues and two years later appeared regularly on the Saturday Night Jamboree on WBT Charlotte, North Carolina. Between February 1936 and 1938, they recorded 60 songs (most were written or co-written by Dorsey) for RCA - Victor Records, which were released on the Bluebird or Montgomery Ward labels. Without doubt the most famous of these songs was ‘I Didn’t Hear Anybody Pray’, which must rank as the genre’s first ‘don’t drink and drive song’. It was later recorded as ‘The Wreck On The Highway’ by Roy Acuff, who subsequently attempted to claim the song as his own. Dorsey opposed Acuff’s claim and after some acrimony, the matter was eventually settled amicably. They eventually gave up hopes of a full-time musical career in the early 40s but continued to play locally. Howard worked for a time with Wade Mainer, with whom he co-wrote several songs including ‘Intoxicated Rat’ and ‘Two Little Rosebuds’. He also recorded a classic version of ‘Barbara Allen’ with Mainer for the Library of Congress. Dorsey continued to work in various mills until 1951, when his fading sight forced him to quit. He had married Beatrice Moody, a fellow mill worker, in 1927 and they had raised four sons before divorcing in 1953. Howard continued to work in the mills and died suddenly, while at work, in March 1961. Dorsey, who appeared at the Newport Folk Festival in 1963, died in April 1968. Old Homestead released a series of albums in the 80s, which contained most of the Dixons’ recorded work.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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