Ronnie Spector, the cat-eyed rock’n’roll siren who sang such hits from the 1960s as “Be My Baby”, “Baby I Love You” and “Walking in the Rain” as the leader of the girl group The Ronettes, has died. She was 78.
Spector died Wednesday after a brief battle with cancer, her family said. “Ronnie lived her life with a twinkle in her eye, a lively attitude, a bad sense of humor and a smile on her face. She was filled with love and gratitude,” it said in a statement. No other details were revealed.
Tributes flooded social media, from Stevie Van Zandt who said it was an honor to produce her, to Brian Wilson, who wrote on Twitter: “I loved her voice so much and she was a very special person and a dear friend.” Diane Warren called her “The voice of a million teenage dreams including mine.”
Ronette’s sexy looks and powerful voices – plus songwriting and producing help from Phil Spector – turned them into one of the girl’s leading acts, where they toured England with The Rolling Stones and became friends with the Beatles.
Spector, along with his sister Estelle Bennett and cousin Nedra Talley, made hits with pop masterpieces such as “Baby, I Love You”, “Walking in the Rain”, “I Can Hear Music” and “Be My Baby”, which were co- written by Spector, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich.
“We were not afraid to be hot. It was our gimmick,” Spector said in his memoir. “Then we would go out on stage and walk them up to show our legs even more.”
Spector, born Veronica Bennett, and her multiracial bandmates grew up in the Washington Heights area of Manhattan. They began singing and dancing at clubs such as Ronnie and the Relatives, and became notable for their liberal use of eyeliner and mascara.
“The louder they applauded, the more mascara we will put on next time,” she wrote in her memoir. “We had no hit record to catch their attention, so we had to make an impression with our style. None of it was planned; we just took the look we were born with and expanded it.”
In March 1963, Estelle Bennett managed to arrange an audition in front of Phil Spector, known for her great, brass-and-drum style called “wall of sound”. They were signed to Philles Records in 1963. After being signed, they sang backups for other acts until Spector had the group album “Be My Baby” and “Baby I Love You”.
The group’s debut album, “Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica”, was released in 1964. Five of its 12 songs had made it to the US Billboard charts.
“Nothing annoys me more than just being on stage, having fun and flirting and winking at the guys and stuff,” she told People magazine 2017. “I just have so much fun. It’s just the best feeling when I go out and they say, “Ladies and gentlemen …” – my heart stops for a minute – “… Ronnie Spector and Ronettes!” Then I just go out and the audience reacts the way they do and I can keep singing forever. “
After touring Germany in 1967, Ronettes broke up. Spector married Ronnie in 1968, when she said he kept her locked up in their Beverly Hills mansion. Her 1990 autobiography “Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts And Madness” tells an unfortunate story of abuse. The couple divorced in 1974. Phil Spector was sent to prison in 2009 for the murder of actress Lana Clarkson and died in 2021.
Ronnie Spector’s influence was felt far and wide. Brian Wilson became obsessed with “Be My Baby” and Billy Joel wrote “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” in Spector’s honor. Amy Winehouse often quoted Spector as an idol.
I just heard about Ronnie Spector and I do not know what to say. I loved her voice so much and she was a very special person and a dear friend. This is just breaking my heart. Ronnie’s music and spirit will live forever.Love & Mercy, Brianhttps: //t.co/dXZKTMWv8a
– Brian Wilson (@BrianWilsonLive) January 12, 2022
Martin Scorsese used “Be My Baby” to open his 1973 film “Mean Streets” and the song appears in the title sequence of “Dirty Dancing” and the final lyrics of “Baby Mama”. It also appeared on TV in “Moonlighting” and “The Wonder Years”.
When Ronettes were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones recalled that they opened for the trio in England in the mid-1960s. “They could sing all the way through a wall of sound,” Richards said. “They needed nothing. They touched my heart every now and then and they still touch it.”
After Ronettes broke up, Spector went on touring and making music, including “Take Me Home Tonight” with Eddie Money, recording Joel’s “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” with Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band and recording the 1999 EP “She Talks to “Rainbows”, which included her first ever recording of “Don’t Worry Baby”, written for her by Brian Wilson.
In 2006, she released “Last of the Rock Stars”, her first album in 20 years and it featured performances by Raconteurs, Keith Richards, Patti Smith and Raveonettes. In 2010 she released a doo-wop Christmas EP called “Ronnie Spector’s Best Christmas Ever” and in 2016 she released “English Heart”, her covers of songs from the UK in the 60’s.
She survived her husband, Jonathan Greenfield, and two sons, Jason and Austin.