Dixie Hall Remembered

Dixie HallDixie Hall passed away on January 16 (2015). She had been ill for much of the previous year.

She was born in Birmingham Maternity Hospital on May, 26, 1934, and lived for a while in the Birmingham district of Erdington before she and her family settled in nearby Sutton Coldfield.

She grew up enjoying western films and American vernacular music; the bluegrass music sound was originated around the time that she was 11 years old. She was also a proficient trick/stunt horse rider. In this role she adopted the name Dixie Deen. The name “Miss Dixie” was given to her by Miss Lillian Carter, mother of President Jimmy Carter.

After taking on the job of being a distributor of Tex Ritter’s recording in Britain, she took on the role of representative for Starday Records. This association led to her emigrating to Nashville, Tennessee, in 1961.

While there she befriended Mother Maybelle Carter with whom she lived for six years. During that period she befriended bluegrass artists the Goins Brothers, Ralph Stanley, Bill Clifton, Bill Monroe, Stringbean and his wife, Estelle, and country music stars Patsy Cline and Dottie West, as well as all the Cash family.

Johnny Cash recorded A Letter From Home and Troublesome Waters, both of which Dixie co-wrote with Maybelle Carter.

Maybelle Carter taught her how to play the autoharp.

Miss Dixie also had literary talents, writing for country music publications including Music City News, for which she progressed to the role of Editor. Earlier she had written a column for the British magazine Country and Western Express.

In 1965, a song that she wrote, Truck Drivin’ Son Of A Gun, was recorded by Dave Dudley. The Number 3 hit country music recording earned her a BMI Award. It was at the BMI Awards Banquet that she met country music singer-songwriter Tom T Hall. “He, having the ‘B’ Side of the Dave Dudley record; was seated at the same table,” Dixie Hall said of her introduction to her future husband.

Later they learned that each had a love of bluegrass music and fishing.

They married on 16 March, 1968.

While Tom T. Hall was on the road promoting his many great songs, Miss Dixie set song-writing aside and began looking after stray animals before she turned to breeding basset hounds for show. At one time she had as many as 50 dogs (and some peacocks) on their 67-acre stately farm outside of Nashville, Fox Hollow.

During this period Dixie Hall became a patron of charities and an important benefactor of the Nashville Humane Society, helping them to raise a million US dollars by sheer willpower and hard work.

About 1996 Tom T. Hall was tired of the very hectic schedule associated with touring and recording, etc. and he retired to a life of leisure, playing golf and pottering around the property.

That same year country music star Alan Jackson released a recording of Hall’s song Little Bitty, in which the narrator states that some of life’s greatest joys are found in the simplicity and small things of life. Clearly a statement reflecting the way Hall was thinking at that time. The recording topped Billboard’s country music chart and earned the Halls enough money to afford the conversion of Dixie’s kennels into a state of the art recording studio.

With Dixie Hall leading the way by returning to song-writing, Tom T. responded to his wife’s cajoling to do some writing also, without the constant pressures of commercial need.

One of first songs that the couple wrote was Local Flowers, a song eschewing the expensive carnations and lilies for those growing locally in the wildwood to decorate the grave site and the title song to Nancy Moore’s album of the same name (released by Pinecastle Records).

Over approximately 18 years Dixie Hall was involved in the writing of about three thousand songs. She has now achieved more song-writing cuts than any female in bluegrass music.

More on her song-writing will follow. 

As is our wont, we have gathered together a few remembrances …

Rebekah Long, one of the Daughters of Bluegrass, shares these thoughts about her dear friend ….

Rebekah Hall, Pam Tillis and Dixie Hall“From the first day I heard that English accent with its southern tinge I knew I had a force in my corner. She made me feel invincible. She gave everything I did a purpose and taught me that everything I do, I should do with purpose. Dixie was a light in the dark for so many. If I could strive to be anything in this world I want to be a sliver of what Dixie was. I have lost one of my greatest friends and mentors.

It was June or July 2010 when I came off the road with Valerie Smith & Liberty Pike. I was tired. For a month or so I just did practically nothing. I laid in bed and licked old and new wounds. In my mind, I was done. I suffered with it night and day. Ben was so outdone he called my mother, Jeanie. She called me on my phone to tell me I had to get out of bed and do something. I said I would, but as soon as the phone clicked I pulled the covers over my head. Not in defiance, but trying to think of what to do. I remember figuring on calling Tom T. and Dixie and seeing if they needed someone to cut grass or anything. I never called.

A day or so went by and my phone rang. That English accent with a southern flare at the end of it said, ‘Rebekah, this is Miss Dixie.’ I replied in the most normal tone I could muster. ‘Can you get your hind end out of bed and find your way to Fox Hollow. I have a proposition for you.’ My first thought was, How does she know?!’ Turns out my sister Lizzy was there telling on me. In finding out they needed a graphic designer/engineer, Lizzy had told Dixie that I could do it if she could talk sense into me and get me out of bed. Needless to say, Dixie didn’t take the answer no. I got up and went.

We were there for most the afternoon. Dixie fed us beans, cornbread and potato ‘shits’ (a mere slip of the tongue that happened), and we talked. She asked me if I wanted to come work for her part time (which eventually turned out to be every day near bout).

From that day forward I was under Dixie’s right arm. She could make me feel as tall as the tallest tree and cut me down to a size just as quick when needed. She fed me, she coached me, she talked to me, she listened, she scolded me, she cussed me, she blessed me… She wrote with me.

I did everything I could and knew how for her and in return she showed me how to stand back up and dust the dirt off.

I didn’t have the heart to listen to her song until two days ago. You see, I pushed her into singing for the very first time on the Daughter’s project Pickin’ Like A Girl. I had only read the lyrics to her latest song Sunny Flower One and knew that I couldn’t stand to hear her sing it, because I wasn’t ready to hear her tell me she was going.

Dixie was a jewel of a woman. She is the mother of bluegrass and should always be remembered as such. Anything and everything else, stays at the table.

I love you Dixie and I miss you. Fly low, walk slow.”

Don Rigsby recorded a few of Dixie Hall’s songs, including Empty Old Mailbox, The Midnight Call and He Loves to Hear You Shout  ……..

Don Rigsby“The passing of Miss Dixie is akin to the passing of royalty. She was a champion for all struggling artists in the business and her generosity was the stuff of legend. She and Tom T. are the text book definition of philanthropy. But even more special is the fact that it is at ground zero where they chose to help. Countless lives have been made better and even saved by their generosity and intervention. Count me among those most affected.

I would like to relate a story about this remarkable lady. One time a few years ago before her health began to fail, I was staying with Tom T. and her. I was very intimidated but inspired by the circumstance. I was sitting in front of the fireplace on a love seat with my feet up relaxing. I was moved to write a song. Imagine that…a SONG written in THAT house! I picked up a pad and began to write. I roughed out the basic framework of the tune. My eyes got heavy and I laid the pad down and went off to bed. The next morning I woke up and went downstairs. She was already up and had found my rambling words. There she sat at the table, coffee cup in hand, working on MY song! I couldn’t believe it! And she turned and looked at me and told me she liked it. And what’s more, when she was finished and I went into the studio to work, she laid it back up where I had left it the previous night. The next morning, Tom T. walked by, picked it up and finished it! I had actually written a song with two legends! And I didn’t even have to ask. This song will be on my next solo project. I have waited for years to find the perfect spot for it. Now is the time.

Let me close by saying that Miss Dixie has left a legacy of love, laughter and living that will never die. I am living proof of the power of her compassion and friendship and will never be the same without her. She was like a mother to me and I am thrilled to know that one day after a while, I will see her again where death has no power and love prevails. Thank you, Sweet lady for loving this ole Kentucky boy.”

continued on page 2…

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.