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Roger Dickerson: At home in New Orleans

Photograph of Roger Dickerson

Our performing arts blog series comes to an end as we look into the life of Roger Dickerson, a Pulitzer nominated composer and educator who realized early on that his heart was in New Orleans.

Roger Dickerson was born in New Orleans, Louisiana to an auto mechanic father and a mother who was a homemaker. Dickerson was no stranger to music; there were many musicians in his family who played for their own enjoyment even though they were not formally trained. Dickerson began taking piano lessons with Mrs. Miriam Panelle when he was eight years old while he attended Gilbert Academy—a school for black boys that has since closed. He also attended McDonogh 35 High School. He received his Bachelor of Arts in music education from Dillard University, and his Masters in music composition from Indiana University. He continued his education as a Fulbright Fellow at the Akadamie für Musik und Darstellende Kunst in Vienna, Austria. He also continued taking private music lessons in Germany. Dickerson played a variety of instruments. In addition to the piano, he learned to play the French horn, trombone, tuba, timpani, contrabass, bass, and the saxophone.

Like many young artists, Dickerson at first dreamed of going to New York City to make his fortune. However after listening to New Orleans music—the music from his own heritage—with his trained ear, he realized his hometown provided everything he needed to become the composer he wanted to become. He also had strong feelings for the city’s culture. Thus, he decided to remain in New Orleans; as a composer, he was considered a rarity for his decision.

Flyer advertising “Our Creole Heritage: Three Centuries of Social History” public forum in which Dickerson participated

Some of his works include the “New Orleans Concerto” which was composed for the United States Bicentennial, “Orpheus an’ His Slide Trombone,” the Louis Armstrong requiem, “A Musical Service for Louis,” “Psalm Forty Nine,” and “Concert Overture for Orchestra.” In addition to composing, Dickerson also taught music theory, composition, orchestra, and piano at Xavier University, Southern University of New Orleans, and Dillard University. He also continued to give private music lessons and mentor other musicians. Even when displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, he continued educate others and share his passion for jazz music. When Dickerson was evacuated to Roswell, New Mexico, he helped found the Roswell Jazz Festival. It has grown to an annual event that is its thirteenth year.

Dickerson won many awards over the course of his long career including the ASCAP and the Marcus Christian Award. In 2014, he received the Best of the Beat Lifetime Achievement in Music Education Award when he was eighty years old. Though retired from his teaching posts, Dickerson continues to mentor others and find new ways to learn.

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