Dixson had a moment to himself in the winter of 2019, about four months after he’d lost his dad to cancer on Father’s Day. Driving through Chicago on a dismal night, the singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist looked back on his own life, comparing his ambitions to his successes and finding a less than satisfactory answer.
“It was a tough time,” he said. “I asked myself the question, ‘Have I done enough? If my tires catch a piece of black ice and I leave this world?’ And so clearly, I heard a voice that told me, ‘Not yet.’”
It was a pivotal moment for him, that voice becoming a guiding light as he battled through grief to realize his musical dreams. A few years later, he’s hearing that same voice in the form of a new accolade: An Oscar nomination for original song, thanks to his work with Beyoncé on “Be Alive,” featured in the Will Smith movie “King Richard.”
“I think that’s what the nomination tells me,” he said. “It’s the echo of that same voice in the car driving in cold Chicago, saying that we’re not done yet, we have so much to accomplish. I have to see this through, for those people who are thinking the same thoughts of ‘Am I enough?’”
It’s fitting that his first Oscar nomination would come on a song like “Be Alive,” with lyrics that speak to the struggles of realizing a dream in the face of adversity. The song soundtracks the triumphant montage at the end of the film filled with clips of Serena and Venus Williams’ path to stardom, and their father, Richard Williams, who helped them get there.
Dixson had sent records to Beyoncé before their collaboration, but when she asked him to contribute to a song for the movie, he saw it as further validation that he’d been on the right path. The two co-wrote the song on a tight deadline, and after Dixson cut a rough demo for her to listen to, the moment of truth finally came.
“I remember finishing a raw demo,” he said. “She walked in and I played it for her. I don’t even think I turned around to look at her while it was playing, I was very nervous. But afterwards, the reaction was so positive. I felt encouraged to keep digging and get it really right.”
Once Beyoncé recorded her take, hearing one of music’s strongest voices sing words he wrote was a powerful experience for Dixson. However, it was the collaborative songwriting process that truly struck a chord with him, further entrenching her place as one of his favorite writers.
“Obviously, we all know if Beyoncé sings, it’s going to be amazing,” he said. “But I don’t think we talk about her ability as a songwriter and a producer enough. I knew she was one of my favorite songwriters, but it was confirmed for me through this process.”
Dixson culled together inspiration for the song from his own life. He saw commonalities between his own parents and those of Venus and Serena, after growing up around many strong women and being raised by a father with a concrete plan.
So when his mother saw the song in the movie for the first time, knowing all the moments that had inspired those very words, she was rendered speechless.
“She and my grandmother watched it together in Atlanta, and her reaction was a loss for words,” he said. “I love it when I can make my mom not know what to say. She’s very good with her words, and not as emotional. So when I can make her proud, or make her cry, I feel very accomplished.”
The accolades are starting to catch up, but Dixson has been making music his whole life. Some of his earliest memories involved banging on pots and pans as a toddler while his mother washed dishes. Naturally, he moved onto the drums as his first instrument, with piano coming into the frame soon after.
Dixson’s father was a pastor, and the musical prodigy soon learned all the instruments in their Atlanta church “just in case” he had to step in and play. By age 5, he’d started singing and blew his parents away with a soulful rendition of Fred Hammond’s “When the Spirit of the Lord.”
A few years later, he earned the solo of “O Holy Night” in his school’s Christmas musical, which he cites as a watershed moment in his artistic endeavors.
“It has that big note at the end of it, and my parents were just amazed,” he said. “They didn’t know I’d been rehearsing that. I got a standing ovation, and that’s kind of what sent me down the path.”
Years later, that soulful foundation is paying dividends. Dixson didn’t think he’d receive an Oscar nomination so early in his career, and his optimistic spirit has him confident that he’ll be back. Still, he recognizes that it’s Beyoncé’s first nomination and hopes he can contribute to her victory, after watching her put in decades of work into her craft.
“I hope we win it for her,” he said. “She’s worked very, very hard to get to this moment. I hope we win, so we can celebrate and give her her flowers. It’s a sign for those people who are working hard and grinding it out, that it’s possible.”
From the Oscars to the Emmys.
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