Musical prodigy Dean Dixon made history by becoming the first African-American to conduct the New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra. Although Dixon’s race barred him from success domestically, he went on to achieve global recognition for his talents. Dixon was born January 10, 1915 in Harlem to Caribbean parents. Dixon learned the violin at age three and became extremely adept at playing by age nine. Dixon’s talent made him into a local celebrity, and he made frequent radio appearances.
At age 13, he opened his own school of music to help his mother with bills. At 17, he enrolled at the prestigious Julliard School of Music, studying conducting under the tutelage of composer Albert Stoessel. After leaving Columbia University, Dixon found opportunities for conducting to be scarce so he began his own classical orchestra.
In 1938, when he was 23, Dixon made his professional debut drawing support from then-First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Mrs. Roosevelt famously supported the work of Black classical musicians such as Marian Anderson, and she gave Dixon a glowing endorsement in her syndicated music column after a concert at the Heckscher Theater.