LOS ANGELES – Ronnie Spector, the cat-eyed rock’n’roll siren who sang 1960s hits like “Be My Baby”, “Baby I Love You” and “Walking in the Rain” as the leader of the girl group the Ronettes, is dead. She was 78.
Spector died Wednesday after a brief battle with cancer, her family said. Ronnie lived his life with a twinkle in his eye, a spunky attitude, a vicious sense of humor and a smile on his face. She was filled with love and gratitude, “it said in a statement. No other details were revealed.
Ronettes’ sexy look and powerful voices – plus songwriting and producing help from Phil Spector – turned them into one of the girl group’s leading tracks, 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, scored hits with pop masterpieces such as “Baby, I Love You”, “Walking in the Rain”, “I Can Hear Music” and “Be My Baby”, co-written by Spector, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich.
“We were not afraid to be hot. It was our gimmick,” Spector said in his memoirs. “When we saw The Shirelles go on stage with their wide party dresses, we went in the opposite direction and squeezed our bodies into the tightest skirts we could find, then we would come 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 started singing and dancing in clubs like Ronnie and the Relatives, and they became notable for their liberal use of eyeliner and mascara.
“The louder they clapped, the more mascara we took on next time,” she wrote in her memoirs. “We did not have a hit record to capture 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 drumming style, called “The Wall of Sound”. They were signed to Phillies Records in 1963. After being signed, they sang backup for other tracks until Spector had the group record “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 tracks had reached the US Billboard charts.
“Nothing excites me more than just being on stage, having fun and flirting and blinking 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 moment – “… Ronnie Spector and Ronettes!” Then I just go out there 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, 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 could be 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.
Martin Scorsese used “Be My Baby” to open his 1973 film “Mean Streets”, and the song appears in the title sequence to “Dirty Dancing” and closing lyrics to “Baby Mama”. It also appeared on television 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 did not need anything. They touched my heart right there 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 appearances 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.
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