Tuesday 24 January 2017

Founder of the New Orleans girl group The Dixie Cups dies

Mark Kennedy

Published 11/10/2016 | 20:49

Joan Marie Johnson performs during the 2008 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in New Orleans (AP Photo/Dave Martin, File)
Joan Marie Johnson performs during the 2008 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in New Orleans (AP Photo/Dave Martin, File)

Joan Marie Johnson, one of the founding members of the New Orleans girl group The Dixie Cups, who had a hit single in 1964 with Chapel of Love, has died aged 72.

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Johnson, who was only with the group for its first few years because she was diagnosed with sickle cell anaemia, died of congestive heart failure on October 3, according to former bandmate Barbara Ann Hawkins.

Chapel of Love, written by Phil Spector, Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry, supplanted the Beatles' Love Me Do as the US number one, climbing as high as 22 in the UK. It was later included in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as one of the 500 songs that shaped rock n' roll.

The trio's other hits include People Say, You Should Have Seen the Way He Looked at Me and their version of a traditional New Orleans song, Iko Iko.

Members of the Dixie Cups from left, Rosa Lee Hawkins, Joan Marie Johnson and Barbara Ann Hawkins perform during the 2008 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in New Orleans (AP Photo/Dave Martin, File)
Members of the Dixie Cups from left, Rosa Lee Hawkins, Joan Marie Johnson and Barbara Ann Hawkins perform during the 2008 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in New Orleans (AP Photo/Dave Martin, File)

Johnson started the group as a teenager and asked Hawkins to join. Hawkins soon asked if her sister, Rosa Lee, could also join.

When they were about to go to New York to set up music deals, Hawkins' grandmother called over to the Johnson house to find out more about her and her family.

Soon the grandmother started laughing and the Hawkins sisters eventually realised that Johnson was their cousin. "I had never even met her," said Barbara Ann Hawkins.

The trio would eventually be signed to Red Bird Records by the songwriting team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.

Johnson is survived by a sister, Ida, and a brother, Howard. A memorial is planned at the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses on October 18.

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