Joan Marie Johnson, co-founder of the pop trio the Dixie Cups, who recorded classics like “Chapel of Love” and “Iko Iko,” died October 3rd at a hospice center in New Orleans, The New York Times reports. She was 72.
The cause was congestive heart failure; Johnson had also long-suffered from sickle cell anemia, according to former bandmate Barbara Ann Hawkins.
In 1964, the Dixie Cups recorded their first single, “Chapel of Love” for Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller’s Red Bird Records. Originally written by Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich and Phil Spector, the song had been a dud for both the Crystals and Ronettes, but the Dixie Cups’ version soared to Number One on the Billboard Hot 100, notably knocking off the Beatles‘ “Love Me Do.”
“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 recalled. “They said, ‘Well, how do you want to sing it?’ So I said, ‘Give us a minute.’ So 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 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame included “Chapel of Love” in its compendium of the 500 Songs that Shaped Rock & Roll. The song is also number 284 on Rolling Stone‘s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
The Dixie Cups followed “Chapel of Love” with two more minor hits, “People Say” and “Iko Iko.” Within a few years, Johnson dropped out of the group due to disagreements with management and health concerns. “We went through a lot because it was the early Sixties and 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.”
The Hawkins sisters would continue the Dixie Cups with several other singers. The current lineup includes Athelgra Neville, though Johnson periodically joined the group for special performances including at the 2008 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
“Joan will forever be part of our history as she participated in some of our legendary performances during the peak of the 1960s music scene,” the Dixie Cups wrote on their website. “The world has lost a classy lady, who had a magnificent sense of humor, a radiating smile, and was truly one of the best people we know. We will love you forever!”