Ronnie Spector, the cat-eyed, bee-hived rock’n’roll siren who sang such 1960s hits as Be My Baby, Baby I Love You and Walking in the Rain as leader of the girl group the Ronettes, has died. She was 78.
Spector died on Wednesday (US time) after a brief battle with cancer, her family said.
“Ronnie lived her life with a twinkle in her eye, a spunky attitude, a wicked sense of humour and a smile on her face. She was filled with love and gratitude,” a statement said.
The Ronettes’ sexy look and powerful voices – plus songwriting and producing help from Phil Spector, to whom Ronnie was married – turned them into one of the premier acts of the girl-group era, touring Britain with The Rolling Stones and befriending the Beatles.
Spector, alongside her 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 to be hot. That was our gimmick,” Spector said in her memoir.
“When we saw The Shirelles walk 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’d get out on stage and hike 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 in clubs as Ronnie and the Relatives, becoming noteworthy for their liberal use of eyeliner and mascara.
In March 1963, Estelle Bennett managed to arrange an audition in front of Phil Spector, known for his big, brass-and-drum style dubbed the “wall of sound”.
They were signed to Phillies Records in 1963. After being signed, they sang backup for other acts 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 made it to the US Billboard charts.
After touring Germany in 1967, the Ronettes broke up.
Spector married Ronnie in 1968, then she said he kept her locked in their Beverly Hills mansion. Her 1990 autobiography Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts And Madness tells an unhappy 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 far and wide. Brian Wilson became obsessed with Be My Baby and Billy Joel wrote Say Goodbye to Hollywood in her honour. 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.
When the Ronettes were inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones remembered opening for the trio in Britain in the mid-1960s.
“They could sing all their way right through a wall of sound,” Richards said.
“They didn’t need anything. They touched my heart right there and then and they touch it still.”
Ronnie Spector is survived her husband, Jonathan Greenfield, and two sons, Jason and Austin.