Howard Dixon, 77, co-owner, manager of Comedy Club

November 28, 2001|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Howard Dart Dixon Sr., who brought nationally recognized entertainers to his family's Comedy Club on Baltimore's Pennsylvania Avenue, died of emphysema Friday at Northwest Hospital Center. He was 77 and lived in Randallstown.

In 1952, Mr. Dixon took over management of the nightspot in the 1400 block of Pennsylvania Ave. - then one of the city's most popular cabarets. The club, which featured a bandstand behind the bar, was founded shortly after the repeal of Prohibition by his father, Isaiah "Ike" Dixon Sr., who died in 1952.

"The Comedy Club was the biggest and the best club for blacks in Baltimore. The Dixons were leaders in the community," said Tracy McCleary of Baltimore, former Royal Theatre orchestra leader who led the Comedy Club's house band many years ago. "We had a chorus girl line and four or five entertainers who moved around the tables and sang. And now and then, there was a real big name act there."

The club, which had a vertical neon sign and large striped canvas awning extending over the sidewalk, was on the first floor of the building and seated 150 people. Upstairs were a hotel and real estate business, also run by Mr. Dixon.

"The Comedy Club was an institution in Baltimore," said Mr. Dixon's brother, former state Del. Isaiah "Ike" Dixon Jr., who co-owned the club. "Howard brought the big names to Baltimore after he'd gotten tips on the rising entertainers to keep his eye on. He found Della Reese in a Philadelphia club and signed her here before she was a big name."

Mr. Dixon also booked such stars as Miles Davis, Dinah Washington, Errol Garner, Billie Holiday, Coleman Hawkins and Chet Baker.

In August 1958, in an incident that Ike Dixon recalled as a celebrated case of police harassment at the club, officers charged Dinah Washington - and several other people at the club - with after-hours drinking. A judge dismissed all charges.

Pennsylvania Avenue's luster as an entertainment district faded during the 1960s, and the Dixons closed their club. Howard Dixon became a Montgomery County deputy sheriff, then retired in 1975 and returned to Baltimore, where he founded Dixon Realty - a business first located on Clifton Avenue and later run from his home.

Born in Baltimore and raised on Dolphin Street, he was a graduate of St. Peter Claver Parochial School and, in 1943, of Frederick Douglass High School.

He was a member of the Real Estate Brokers of Baltimore and the Baltimore Business League, and a retired member of the Fraternal Order of Police, Montgomery County Lodge No. 35.

Mr. Dixon's two marriages - to Mildred Holly and Lillian Watkins - ended in divorce.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11 a.m. today at St. Bernardine Roman Catholic Church, 3800 Edmondson Ave., where he was a member.

In addition to his brother, he is survived by a son, Howard D. Dixon Jr. of Randallstown; a daughter, Diane Louise Dixon of Columbia; a grandson; and two great-grandchildren.

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