Rosa Lee Hawkins, the youngest member of the musical trio the Dixie Cups, whose hit single “Chapel of Love” reached No. 1 on the Billboard 100 in 1964, died Tuesday in Tampa, Fla. She was 76.
The cause was internal bleeding from complications during surgery at Tampa General Hospital, said her sister Barbara Ann Hawkins, who was also a member of the group, along with Joan Marie Johnson, who died in 2016 at age 72.
The Dixie Cups epitomized the harmonizing sound of the 1960s girl group. “Chapel of Love,” their debut single and best-known song, quickly replaced the Beatles’ “Love Me Do” as No. 1 on the Billboard charts in 1964. It was later featured on the soundtrack of Stanley Kubrick’s 1987 Vietnam War movie, “Full Metal Jacket.”
Rosa Lee Hawkins was born on October 23, 1945 in New Orleans to Hartzell Hawkins, a self-employed carpenter, and Lucille (Merette) Hawkins, a state worker who registered voters.
While in high school in 1963, Barbara took Rosa to sing with her and Joan Marie in a high school talent show. The trio initially called themselves the Meltones, only to find out later that the name was already in use. Since they were from Dixie’s country and “cups are cute,” Barbara said in an interview, they came up with the name Dixie Cups (playing on the name of the popular paper cup).
Joan later found out that the Hawkins sisters were actually her cousins.
Though they did not win the talent show, a talent scout in the audience, impressed by their rich harmonies, invited the group, along with other Louisiana musicians, to perform for Red Bird Records. The Dixie Cups sang “Iko Iko,” a song traditionally sung at Mardi Gras and a favorite of the Hawkins sisters’ grandmother. Shortly after, they signed a record deal.
The Dixie Cups received two gold records, for ‘Chapel of Love’ and another hit, ‘People Say’. They were inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2007.
The group recorded a total of four albums, their last in 2011. Ms. Johnson, sick with sickle cell anemia and tired from touring, left the group and was replaced by a number of singers over the years. However, the Hawkins sisters persisted and continued to sing as they did in high school, with harmonies as lively as ever.
“When the audience smiled and applauded, she was happy because she knew she would put a smile on their faces, if only for that time,” Barbara said of her younger sister.
In addition to Barbara, Mrs. Hawkins leaves behind another sister, Shirley; a son, Eric Blanc; and two grandchildren.