Beau Dixon is a Peterborough musician who combines music with the art of storytelling. His music reflects his mixed-heritage roots and blends soul, funk, rock, and blues into a foot-stomping fusion. As an African-Canadian, Dixon is passionate about Black History and spreading the word about the contributions of heroic African-Canadians. Arthur sat down with Dixon to discuss his latest venture.
You have a play coming up at the Public Library called “Beneath Springhill: The Maurice Ruddick Story.” Can you tell me a bit about the history of this story?
Maurice Ruddick was an African-Canadian who was awarded citizen of the year for saving the lives of six other miners in Springhill coal mining number two mine in 1958. It was the largest (mining) disaster in North America. 134 miners worked that day and 75 died. They didn’t make it out. Maurice and seven miners were the last ones out and they were trapped down there for practically nine days.
Why did you choose to write a play based on this story?
I felt a real close connection to Maurice because he was a coal miner, a musician, who had a big passion for music, and he also liked to sing at church and my dad is a retired minister, my mom is a retired gospel chaplain….. music was a big source of keeping his spirits up and those of the other miners. It was a big boost of morale that they needed to get them through it.
Where did your musical roots come from?
I started singing in church. My first job when I was 10 years old, my dad would get in his car and do his rounds in nursing homes and he had me play piano and be his pianist for his services. So, I was hopping in the car and following my dad around and doing church services and it was a real learning experience with playing the piano.
How did you transition to playing blues and soul?
You know, being African-Canadian myself, and being mulatto- my mom is white and my dad is black- my dad, you know, the first thing I remember is his album collection, with Miles Davis, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, and I would sit by the phonograph and read the wire notes like I was reading a book, and go along with the song. It was black music that was accessible to me. I didn’t really know other type of music, and then my mom would bring in Ann Murray, who was from Springhill, which is the town where the mining accident happen.
So, there is a personal connection to Springhill?
That’s right. My mom and dad met in Nova Scotia, which is also why I started writing about Nova Scotia history. But it was the discovery of the music of Stevie Wonder and Miles Davis that really brought me closer to my African heritage and attracted me to the those kinds of musicians.
How did you balance being mulatto when it came to music?
You know, growing up in Canada, in a type of the rural landscape, the music that was quite prominent on the radio was Canadian rock. You know, I was always torn with listening to the rock of Canada… the demand was to play white people’s music and I sort of wanted to know my (African) roots. But I have Irish and English roots, as well.
What do you think the difference is between storytelling and playing music?
A story is a bridge… it brings new meaning and encompasses something bigger… a play that is dialogue and has character conveys a message, but there has to be a beginning and end, and there’s a little of this in both a playwright and a song. It’s forcing the listener to use the same muscle and use the same senses, and it’s a very fine line, but luckily with a play, you have more time to tell the story. That’s the big difference between a play and a song.
One of my first gigs in Peterborough was writing gigs for radio, and I learned a lot about storytelling by writing jingles because you only have thirty seconds to get your point across.
You can catch a free performance of “Beneath Springhill: The Maurice Ruddick Story” at the Peterborough Public Library on Tuesday, February 19 at 7:00 p.m.