Choosing Macon: Kelley Dixson
By Rachelle Wilson
Photography by Maryann Bates
Part of a series that features individuals from our community who, after some time away, have returned to share their skills and talents here.
I recently came across a video online of a woman singing jazz in a nightclub. Her voice was soulful and sultry and at once resonated with that blue, unresolved feeling of coping with life and learning to love through the struggle that jazz expresses so well.
Upon closer look, I realized this video was not captured in some big city, but was filmed at Macon’s own JBA just a few nights before my viewing. The singer was none other than a mysterious woman I encountered months previous at a social event but hadn’t spotted since. That is, until she appeared with me on the gallery wall of The Macon Music Project by photographer Dsto Moore.
As I listened to her sing, I connected the dots. This was Kelley Dixson, a Maconite who had recently returned to town after many years in New Orleans. Moore’s depiction of her for the gallery captured her with flute in hand, perched whimsically atop a wooden speaker. But as I heard her crooning, I realized that being a classically trained flutist was only a fraction of her musical talents.
Kelley at once exudes joy and melancholy in a manner that instantly connects with the paradox of life. Initially coming to Macon to study music at Mercer University, Kelley quickly fell in love with the energy and acceptance she felt here. Upon graduating in 2008, academic pursuits took her to New Orleans. Once there, several areas of her life began to unravel and she decided to give up music, which included giving up her master’s program at Louisiana State University.
But in New Orleans, escaping music was not possible. Her musician friends continually pushed her to join them on stage during jazz nights, but the thought intimidated her.
“Just watching how brave they were to get up on the stage and be boldly vulnerable, it seemed terrifying. At that point, I had never sang before. So, I went to this jazz camp where we learned five or six songs and at the end we performed at Preservation Hall,” she said.
Through that experience, Kelley began to find her voice. She rededicated herself to music, ultimately recording a jazz album and joining several bands. But after having her daughter, she wanted to relocate somewhere that felt more like home; Macon was the clear choice.
Kelley recalled that Macon had showed her what it felt like to belong somewhere, a feeling she wanted her daughter to experience.
“The people are what makes Macon home to me. I feel accepted and wanted. I had never felt that instant family and belonging before,” she said.
And though the things she loves most about our community have not changed, Kelley has. The life she is building this time around involves a fiance, a 2-year old and a new-found voice. Macon still may be home to the people who folded her in, but she recognizes that there are so many others who have not been able to find their place in this community – no matter how long they’ve lived here.
“Opportunities seem to be flying out toward the new mall area and forgetting about central and south Macon. For so many, opportunities have been taken away. But then I look downtown and I see a concentrated effort to provide folks something to do. Downtown there are parks, places to eat and shop, free music shows and the Washington Memorial Library, which is our favorite,” she said. “Downtown Macon is thriving. I love living downtown. It’s where I feel the most healthy and comfortable. … If all of Macon focused on offering basic quality of life needs for everyone, I believe we’d see a decline in crime, segregation and political apathy.
“People don’t think they can change anything. There is still a lot of brokenness in Macon. Often times people have a lot of the same needs but don’t want to work together. If we seek to pull the sameness out of each other, we can discover where our heart is. Because we all have the same problems, just in different circumstances.”
The disconnect she sees when she looks beyond her circle is something Kelley hopes to help. She believes that Macon is building toward a better future, and that it is a journey we can all choose to be part of. For Kelley, that means using her talents and even her pain to connect and lift up those around her.
“After having my daughter two years ago, I went through postpartum depression, which I still struggle with. … I’m trying to find a way to take the talents and abilities that I do have and leverage them to help others,” she said. “One way I plan to do that is through a group I started called Village Potluck. It pulls from the idea that it takes a village to raise a child and that we all have something to bring to the table. A lot of moms just need an outlet and art can be a wonderful way to do that.
“We are starting a podcast called apPARENTly that’s based on motherhood and the arts. We hope to inspire moms to use what they have, because people, mothers in particular, have to be really resourceful. We are creative and what we have to say matters. … We have a voice and need to use that voice to move things around and shape our community – to support us and not to break us apart.”
In my conversation with Kelley, I discovered that we share so much more than a love of music, we share a hope and a vision for Macon. Her passion for this community is evident, not only through her choice to return and give of herself here, but also through her willingness to be vulnerable. Whether it be expressing courage by sharing a song or sharing her struggles, Kelley is choosing Macon and she’s all in.