National Artist Spotlight: Akua Dixon

AKUA DIXON, Cellist-composer-Conductor, is a native of New York City. A graduate of the
famed H.S. of Performing Arts, she studied cello with Benar Heifetz and composition with
Rudolf Schramm. Akua studied bass concepts with ReggieWorkman and Jazz Practice
Techniques with Jimmy Owens, at the Collective Black Artists Institution of Education.

She is the 1998 recipient of “The African American Classical Music Award”, given by the
Northern New Jersey Spelman Alumnae Association. Akua performs nationally and
internationally at concert halls and colleges, public schools and libraries; at jazz festivals in
Chicago , Hawaii , Berlin , St. Lucia, Tri-Sea, North Sea, Pori, Saalfelden, Jamaica, Puerto
Rico, Martinique, Guadaloupe, and San Diego, etc. Her music for string quartet has been
featured on an eight country, 26 concert tour of Europe and Scandinavia.

Among the many noted artists she has performed with a few are: Duke Ellington, Lionel
Hampton, Max Roach,Betty Carter, Ray Charles, Israel “Cachao” Lopez, Eubie Blake, Tony
Bennett, Sammy Davis Jr., Diana Ross, Bob Hope, the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Liza
Minnelli, etc. She has been engaged at many Broadway shows, including: Doonesbury,
Barnum, La Cage aux Faux, Evita, Jerry’s Girls, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Cats, and
Akua has appeared on New York Undercover with James Brown, Mary J. Blige,
and B. B. King. Her first professional job was as a member of the famed Apollo Theatre
In 1973, she founded her own string quartet, Quartette Indigo. They have been called “jazz’s
leading string quartet” by some critics. The quartet’s repertoire features original works and
arrangements of jazz classics, by Akua.
Akua’s first release,”Quartette Indigo”, on Landmark
Records, received four stars in Downbeat. Her new CD is entitled “AFRIKA! AFRIKA!”, and
was released on Savant Records. Critics are now saying that the group “swings madly”.
To open the 1996 season of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre at City Center , she notated
and conducted the premiere of a new ballet, ” Riverside “, by Judith Jamison, music by Kimati
She also conducted their classic ballet “Revelations.” The filmscore to “Anna Oz”,
TV commercials for Jello’s Cheesecake and Butterscotch Puddings, and several types of
Kraft Yoghurts can also be added to her recent conducting credits.

Akua has lectured at the Smithsonian Institute and won grants from the National Endowment
of the Arts (“Afrika! Afrika!” – concert piece for solo cello and string orchestra) and the Rockefeller Foundation (“The Opera of Marie Laveau”) for her compositions. The Opera was performed at the Henry Street New Federal Theatre in New York, and Akua performed on the
piano for this event.

She received commissions from Meet the Composer to write a work for
the Festival of Women Improvisers (“Quest”) and the Brooklyn Philharmonic’s tribute to Dr.
Martin Luther King (“Jesus Is the Bridge”). Akua’s music for strings in jazz was the subject of
a WGBH-Boston public television special in 1981.

Akua’s performance and lecture for the New Directions Cello Festival of ’98 was also enthusiastically received.
She gave a lecture on playing the blues to approximately 50 aspiring jazz cellists. Akua has always been involved with inspiring children to pursue their
musical talents. This is her second season doing concerts for the Carnegie Hall Neighborhood Concert Series.
akua 4

Akua can be seen on videos with Wyclef Jean, conducting the
“Urban Youth Symphony”. She conducted “Gone Til November” on the Chris Rock Show, and for an MTV Special. During the summer of 1967 and 1968, she taught string students at Skidmore College in a special program entitled Project PEP (Programs to Excite Potential).

In 1972, she worked for the New York Board of Education as a Music Specialist, supplying new
repertoire to the string programs and teaching at 17 different schools. She has given clinics to
string players at the Cleveland School of the Arts and the Kamehameha School in Hawaii.

In 1978, she founded the Akua Dixon String Ensemble, which has supplied string sections for Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Carmen McRae, Woody Shaw, Frank Foster, Jimmy Heath, Pharaoh
Saunders, Buster Williams, and Antonio Hart.
In 1974, she was the Director of New Music for
“The String Reunion,” a New York based string orchestra formed by Noel Pointer. She
supplied originals and arrangements of jazz classics for this 30 piece string ensemble.

Akua has always been involved in playing new music, especially pieces that require
improvisation. She has also recorded with Tim Robbins, Don Cherry, Henry Threadgil, James
Blood Ulmer, and Joseph Jarman.

Her vocal work has won her international acclaim, recording with Archie Shepp’s Attica Blues
Big Band, “Live at the Palais de Glace” (accompanying herself on piano), and Steve Turre’s
Sextet with Strings album, “Right There.”

For more information about Akua Dixon go to her website:


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