Joan Marie Johnson Faust, one of the founding members of The Dixie Cups, the New Orleans singing group who reached the top of the national charts in the 1960s with “Chapel of Love” and “Iko Iko,” has died. She was 72.
One of the group’s co-founders, Barbara Ann Hawkins, said Faust died in New Orleans earlier this week of congestive heart failure.
Faust, Hawkins and her sister Rosa Lee Hawkins were the three original members of The Dixie Cups, who famously knocked The Beatles out of the top spot on the recording charts in 1964 with their hit “Chapel of Love” and went on to become New Orleans music legends.
“Joan brought a lot of joy to the group and had us laughing all the time,” Barbara Hawkins said of Faust, who was only with the group for its first few years. “She was a really kind-hearted person.”
Growing up in the Calliope Housing Project in the 1950s and 60s, the Hawkins sisters had never met Faust, though it turns out they were cousins, Barbara Hawkins said Wednesday. Faust somehow knew Hawkins was a singer and in 1963 encouraged her to join up with a group Faust had organized with her brother to compete in a St. Augustine High School talent show a few weeks later. "I was on my way to the store," Hawkins said. "And she said, 'Hey, I heard you can sing. You want to be in the group?’"
The group rehearsed that night at Hawkins’ house but after a few rehearsals the bass singer had to drop out, so Hawkins’ sister Rosa Lee joined the group. They competed in the talent show a few weeks later, but as the Mel-Tones, not the Dixie Cups. “Everybody talked about our outfits, which I made. They were green, iridescent dresses and tuxedo pants for the guys with a tie and cummerbund I made from the same fabric,” Barbara Hawkins said.
Though they didn’t win the talent show, they did catch the eye of local singer and promoter Joe Jones, who was in the audience that night and later signed the group to a management contract. “He remembered our green dresses from that night and had circled our names in the program,” Barbara Hawkins remembered.
The rest is music history. Once Jones (with the help of singer Sylvia Vanderpool Robinson of "Mickey and Sylvia" fame) got the three harmonizing teenagers to New York they auditioned frequently, in hopes of a record contract. After they sang for famed songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, the pair immediately signed the group but told them change their name. Rosa Hawkins recounted in a WWNO interview aired on National Public Radio that a weeks went by before the group even knew the record had been produced.
"The first time I heard 'Chapel of Love' on the radio, it was on a Saturday morning and I was doing my chores," Rosa Hawkins said to WWNO. "This record came on and it was like, 'Oh, that record sounds familiar. Oh, I know that song.' And then I realized, 'Hey! That's my voice there!'
"And I ran up the steps and I was screaming, and my mom came down. She said, 'What's the matter? What's the matter?' And I said, 'Our song is on the air! It's being played on the radio.' Then we got the call from Mike and Jerry to come back to New York, so that was the beginning of our career, basically,” Hawkins said.
"Chapel of Love" stayed at Number 1 for three weeks. The follow-up, “Iko Iko,” cracked the Top 20 in 1965. Another hit was "People Say," also from 1964.
Hawkins said Faust had lived with sickle cell anemia all her life and left the group sometime after 1966. “When we started traveling, it was really hard on her health,” said Barbara Hawkins.
Beverly Brown replaced Faust in the group, but also left and was replaced in the 1980s by Dale Mickle. The current group consists of the Hawkins sisters (who have lived in Tampa, Florida since being displaced by Hurricane Katrina) and Athelgra Neville Gabrile, a member of the famous Neville family.
The group returns to New Orleans frequently to perform. Barbara Hawkins said she and her sister were able to visit with Faust last week for one last goodbye. The group has a local performance Wednesday night at a benefit for the St. Jude Community Center.
Faust had been married but had no children, Hawkins said. She is survived by several cousins, nieces and nephews.