The Dixie Cups were three girls from New Orleans, two of whom were sisters. They were Barbara Ann and Rosa Lee Hawkins along with their cousin Joan Marie Johnson. The three began singing in grade school when they were known as Little Miss and the Muffets. Their name changed through the years but by 1964, they were known as The Mel-Tones. They got their break when Joe Jones heard them sing at a talent contest and took them on as their manager. Jones was famous for his song “You Talk Too Much” which hit number three in 1960.
He worked with them for about six months and then took them to New York to meet with Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller (Remember the Coasters and other great groups of the Fifties?) Leiber and Stoller had just started a new record label called Red Bird Records and they were impressed enough by the Mel-Tones to sing them to the new label. The first thing they did was change their name to the Dixie Cups.
“Chapel of Love” was written by the husband/wife songwriting team of Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich with some help from Phil Spector. Spector wanted the song to go to his girl group, The Blossoms (see “He’s a Rebel” which is discussed during the 1962 chapter,) but Barry and Greenwich wanted to give it to the Dixie Cups which is unusual since the Dixie Cups were brand new and untested. However, they were glad they did.
One story about the recording of the song shows that “Chapel of Love” might have never happened. The recording engineer, Brooks Arthur draped a piece of recording tape around his neck as they were recording. That piece of tape had the beginning bars of the song on it. He left the studio forgetting that he had that loop of tape. When Arthur got home, he discovered it and threw it in the garbage, thinking it was just extra tape. When he got to the studio the next day, he discovered that that piece of tape contained the intro to the song, so he called his wife, had her search through the garbage to find the tape and send it down to him. Not sure what would have happened if he had lost that tape, but the record was saved.
Spector took the song anyway and gave it to the Ronettes, who recorded it for their debut album Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes featuring Veronica. Although that album contained their huge hit “Be My Baby” (#2,) their version of “Chapel of Love” did not chart.
The Dixie Cups have the “distinction” of being the only American group to have a number one record during the first half of 1964. Of course, the Beatles dominated that period and there was a few solo artists (like Louis Armstrong and Bobby Vinton) who had number one hits, no other group was able to do so until we get to the Beach Boys later one.
“Chapel of Love” has gone down as one of the true classics of the Sixties, being featured in many movies and covered by many other singers. Bette Midler covered it on her debut album The Divine Miss M, but it did not chart.
“Chapel of Love” entered the pop chart on May 16, 1964 and spent three weeks at number one. The Dixie Cups charted only three more times and never had another number one. By the end of the Sixties they were gone.