By Mark Kennedy | Associated Press
LOS ANGELES — Ronnie Spector, the bee-eyed, cat-eyed rock ‘n’ roll siren who sang 1960s hits like “Be My Baby,” “Baby I Love You” and “Walking in the Rain” in as the leader of the girl group the Ronettes, has passed away. She was 78 years old.
Spector died Wednesday after a brief battle with cancer, her family said. “Ronnie lived her life with a twinkle in her eye, a brave attitude, a wicked sense of humor and a smile on her face. She was filled with love and gratitude,” a statement said. No further details has not been revealed.
The Ronettes’ sexy looks and powerful vocals – along with writing and producing help from Phil Spector – made them one of the premier acts of the girl band era, touring England. with the Rolling Stones and befriending the Beatles.
Spector, alongside his sister Estelle Bennett and cousin Nedra Talley, scored hits with pop masterpieces like “Baby, I Love You”, “Walking in the Rain”, “I Can Hear Music” and “Be My Baby”, which was co-written by Spector, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich.
“We weren’t afraid of being hot. It was our gimmick,” Spector said in his memoir. “When we saw The Shirelles walking on stage in their baggy evening dresses, we went in the opposite direction and hugged our bodies in the tightest skirts we could find. Then we got on stage and rode them to show off our legs even more.
Spector, born Veronica Bennett, and her multiracial 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 extensive use of eyeliner and mascara.
“The louder they clapped, the more mascara we put on next time,” she wrote in her memoir. “We didn’t have a hit record to catch their attention, so we had to make an impression with our style. None of this was planned; we just took the look we were born with and extended it.
In March 1963, Estelle Bennett managed to arrange an audition in front of Phil Spector, known for his great style of horns and drums nicknamed the “wall of sound”. They were signed to Phillies Records in 1963. After being signed, they sang for other bands until Spector had the band’s record “Be My Baby” and “Baby I Love You”.
The group’s first album, “Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes With Veronica”, was released in 1964. Five of its 12 tracks had reached the US Billboard charts.
“Nothing turns me on more than being on stage and having fun and flirting and winking at guys and stuff like that,” she told People magazine in 2017. “I’m having so much fun. It’s just the best feeling when I walk out and they say, ‘Ladies and gentlemen…’ — my heart stops for a minute — ‘…Ronnie Spector and the Ronettes! Then I come out and the crowd reacts the way they react and I can go on singing forever.
After a tour of Germany in 1967, the Ronettes split up. Spector married Ronnie in 1968, then 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.
Ronnie Spector’s influence was felt everywhere. Brian Wilson became obsessed with “Be My Baby” and Billy Joel wrote “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” in Spector’s honor. Amy Winehouse frequently cited Spector as 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 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 in England in the mid-1960s. “They could sing along to a wall of sound “, said Richards. “They didn’t need anything. They touched my heart right away and they still do.
After the Ronettes split, 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 the recording of the 1999 EP “She Talks to Rainbows”. which included her very 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 and it featured guest appearances by the Raconteurs, Keith Richards, Patti Smith and the Raveonettes. In 2010 she released a doo-wop Christmas EP called “Ronnie Spector’s Best Christmas Ever” and in 2016 released “English Heart”, her covers of British songs from the 60s.
She is survived by her husband, Jonathan Greenfield, and her two sons, Jason and Austin.