Entertainment & Arts

Joan Marie Johnson, founding member of The Dixie Cups, dies aged 72

Joan Marie Johnson (centre) with Rosa Lee Hawkins and Barbara Ann Hawkins Image copyright AP
Image caption Joan Marie Johnson (centre) formed the band with her cousins, Rosa Lee and Barbara Ann Hawkins

Joan Marie Johnson - co-founder of New Orleans pop trio The Dixie Cups, who recorded such classics as Chapel of Love and Iko Iko - has died aged 72.

The band famously knocked the Beatles' Love Me Do off the number one spot in the US with Chapel of Love in 1964.

Co-written by Phil Spector, the Dixie Cups' first single went on to sell a million copies.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame later included it in a list of 500 Songs said to have "shaped rock and roll".

The Dixie Cups were formed in New Orleans when Johnson invited Barbara Ann Hawkins to sing with her in a high school talent show.

"I was on my way to the grocery store and she stopped me and said, 'I heard you sing,'" Hawkins recalled.

Barbara Ann's sister, Rosa Lee Hawkins, soon joined them. The three later discovered they were cousins.

The trio was almost known as the Meltones or Little Miss and the Muffets

But they settled on the Dixie Cups name in 1964 after being discovered by producer and singer Joe Jones.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The singer continued to appear with the band on special occasions

Jones took them to New York where they recorded Chapel of Love, written by Spector, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich.

The band came up with the song's unique vocal arrangement on the spot.

"When Ellie and Jeff first played Chapel for us, we looked at each other, like, 'You really want us to sing that like that?'" Hawkins told Rolling Stone.

"They said, 'Well, how do you want to sing it?' So I said, 'Give us a minute.'

"We went in the corner and started singing. We walked back to them and when we sang it the way it was recorded, they were just, 'Wow! That was awesome.'"

The song peaked at number 22 in the UK and was later covered by the Beach Boys.

Health concerns

The Dixie Cups released further successful records in 1964 and 1965, including You Should Have Seen the Way He Looked at Me, Little Bell and a cover of the New Orleans standard, Iko Iko.

But when their record label went out of business, the band's recording career effectively ended.

Johnson quit soon after citing management and health concerns, having suffered with sickle cell anaemia.

"Because it was the early sixties, we went through a lot as far as race and a whole lot of other things," Hawkins said.

"We had a manager who wasn't really in our corner, but there were a lot of good times."

Johnson occasionally rejoined the band for performances, including one at the 2010 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

She died of congestive heart failure in a New Orleans hospice on 3 October.

The singer is survived by a sister, Ida, and a brother, Howard. A memorial is planned in New Orleans next week.

"The world has lost a classy lady, who had a magnificent sense of humour, a radiating smile, and was truly one of the best people we know," wrote the Dixie Cups on their website.

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