NEW YORK (AP) – Ronnie Spector, the cat-eyed, beehive rock’n’roll mermaid who sang 1960s hits like “Be My Baby”, “Baby I Love You” and “Walking in the Rain “as the leader of girl group Les Ronettes, has passed away. She was 78 years old.
Spector died on Wednesday after a brief battle with cancer, her family said. “Ronnie lived her life with a sparkle in her eyes, a brave demeanor, 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.
Tributes flooded social media, with Stevie Van Zandt saying 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 friend. very expensive.”
The Ronettes’ sexy looks and powerful vocals – along with songwriting and production help from Phil Spector – turned them into one of the first groups in the girl group era, touring in England with the Rolling Stones and befriending the Beatles.
Spector, alongside his sister Estelle Bennett and cousin Nedra Talley, has recorded 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. It was our gadget, ”Spector said in his memoir. “When we saw the Shirelles take the stage in their wide evening dresses, we went in the opposite direction and hugged our bodies in the tightest skirts we could find. Then we would take the stage and take them up to show our legs even more. “
Spector, née Veronica Bennett, and her multiracial group mates grew up in Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood. They started singing and dancing at clubs like Ronnie and the Relatives, becoming notable for their liberal use of eyeliner and mascara.
“The louder they cheered, 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 organize an audition in front of Phil Spector, known for his great style of brass and drums nicknamed the “sound barrier”. They were signed to Phillies Records in 1963. After being signed they sang for other bands until Spector had the band’s recording “Be My Baby” and “Baby I Love You”.
The group’s debut album, “Introducing the Fabulous Ronettes with Veronica”, was released in 1964. Five of its 12 tracks had reached the US charts.
“Nothing turns me on more than being on stage, having fun, flirting and winking 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 go out and they say, ‘Ladies and gentlemen…” – my heart stops for a minute— “… Ronnie Spector and the Ronettes!” Then I just go there and the crowd reacts like they react and I can keep singing forever.
After a tour of Germany in 1967, the Ronettes went their separate ways. Spector married Ronnie in 1968, then she said he kept her locked up in their Beverly Hills mansion. His 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 honor of Spector. Amy Winehouse frequently cited Spector as an idol.
Martin Scorsese used “Be My Baby” to open his 1973 movie “Mean Streets” and the song appears in the title sequence of “Dirty Dancing” and the end 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 opening in England in the mid-1960s. “They could sing through a wall of sound,” said Richards said. “They didn’t need anything. They touched my heart on the spot and they touch it again. “
After the Ronettes split, Spector continued to tour and make music, including “Take Me Home Tonight” with Eddie Money, the recording of Joel’s “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” with Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band and 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 appearances by The Raconteurs, Keith Richards, Patti Smith and the Raveonettes. In 2010, she released a Christmas doo-wop EP titled “Ronnie Spector’s Best Christmas Ever” and in 2016 released “English Heart,” her covers of songs from 60s Britain.
She is survived by her husband, Jonathan Greenfield, and her two sons, Jason and Austin.
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits