LOS ANGELES – Ronnie Spector, cat-eyed rock ‘n’ roll siren with bee hive who sang such 1960s hits as “Be My Baby”, “Baby I Love You” and “Walking in the Rain” as leader groups. The girl group The Ronettes has died. She was 78 years old.
Spector died on Wednesday after a brief battle with cancer, her family said. “Ronnie lived her life with a twinkle in her eye, a fiery personality, a wicked sense of humor and a smile on her face. She was filled with love and gratitude,” the statement said. No other details were given.
The Ronettes’ sexy looks and powerful voices, along with Phil Spector’s songwriting and production assistance, turned them into one of the leading bands of the era of girl groups touring England with the Rolling Stones and befriending the Beatles.
Spector, along with his sister Estelle Bennet and cousin Nedra Talley, scored hits with such pop masterpieces as “Baby, I Love You”, “Walking in the Rain”, “I Can Hear Music” and “Be My Baby”. written by Spector, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich.
“We were not afraid to be hot. It was our ploy,” Spector said in her memoir. “When we saw The Shirelles take the stage in their wide evening gowns, we went in the opposite direction and squeezed into the tightest skirts we could find. Then we would go on stage and lift them up to show our legs even more.”
Spector, born Veronica Bennett, and her multi-ethnic bandmates grew up in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan. They began singing and dancing in clubs as Ronnie and the Relatives, becoming notable for their profuse use of eyeliner and mascara.
“The louder they applauded, the more mascara we applied the next time,” she wrote in her memoirs. “We didn’t have a hit record to grab their attention, so we had to impress with our style. None of this was planned; we just took the image we were born with and expanded it.”
In March 1963, Estelle Bennett managed to get an audition in front of Phil Spector, known for his big, wind and drum style, dubbed the “wall of sound”. They signed with Phillies Records in 1963. After signing the contract, they sang backing vocals for other bands until Spector recorded the band’s “Be My Baby” and “Baby I Love You”.
The band’s debut album Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes featuring Veronica was released in 1964. Five of the 12 tracks charted on the US Billboard.
“Nothing excites me more than just being on stage, having fun, flirting, winking at guys and stuff like that,” she told People magazine in 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 the Ronettes!” Then I just go out there and the crowd reacts the way they react and I can keep singing forever.”
After a tour of Germany in 1967, the Ronettes disbanded. 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 2020.
The influence of Ronnie Spector was felt everywhere. Brian Wilson became obsessed with “Be My Baby” and Billy Joel wrote “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” in tribute to Spector. Amy Winehouse often called Spector an idol.
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 closing credits of “Baby Mama”. He has also appeared on television in Moonlighting and The Wonder Years.
When the Ronettes were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones recalled the trio’s opening act in England in the mid-1960s. “They could sing all the way through the wall of sound,” Richards said. “They didn’t need anything. They touched my heart right then and there and still touch it today.”
After the Ronettes broke up, Spector continued to tour and make 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 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, featuring performances by the Raconteurs, Keith Richards, Patti Smith and the Raveonettes. In 2010, she released a Christmas mini-album called Ronnie Spector’s Best Christmas, and in 2016 she released English Heart, her covers of British songs from the 60s.
She is survived by her husband Jonathan Greenfield and two sons Jason and Austin.