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Ronettes singer and 1960s icon Ronnie Spector has died at 78

Ronnie Spector, the rock with cat eyes and the beehive mermaid ‘n’ roll who sang 1960s hits like Be my baby, I love you baby and Walking in the rain as the leader of the Ronettes girl group, 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 other details were revealed.

The Ronettes’ sexy looks and powerful vocals – along with songwriting and Phil Spector’s help with production – turned them into one of the first acts of the girl group era. They toured England with the Rolling Stones and befriended the Beatles.

Spector, alongside his sister Estelle Bennett and cousin Nedra Talley, recorded hits with pop masterpieces I love you baby, 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 get hot. It was our thing,” 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 go up on stage and take them up to show off our very legs. “

Members of the Ronettes, left to right, Ronnie Spector, Nedra Talley and Estelle Bennett, appear in this October 21, 1964 photo. (Express / Hulton Archives / Getty Images)

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 get their attention so we had to make an impression with our style. None of that 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 got the band’s record. Be my baby and I love you baby.

Ronettes singer and 1960s icon Ronnie Spector has died at 78
Left to right, Ronnie Spector, Steve van Zandt, Ben E. King and Mike Stoller attend the Piece of My Heart: The Bert Berns Story opening night at Pershing Square Signature Center on July 21, 2014 in New York City. (Ben Gabbe / Getty Images)

The group’s first album, Introducing the fabulous ronettes featuring 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, 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 over there and the crowd reacts as 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, Mini Skirts, 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.

Influence transcends gender

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 film Middle streets and the song appears in the title sequence of Dirty dance and the end credits of baby mom. He also appeared on television in Moonlight and The good 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 right there and they touch it again.”

Ronettes singer and 1960s icon Ronnie Spector has died at 78
Rock And Roll Hall of Fame inductees, left to right, Estelle Bennett, Ronnie Spector and Nedra Talley bow down after their stage performance at the induction ceremony at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel on March 12, 2007 in New York. (Scott Gries / Getty Images)

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 recording of the 1999 EP She talks to the rainbows, which included his very first recording of Don’t worry baby, written for her by Brian Wilson.

In 2006, she released The last of the rock stars, his 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 and in 2016 released English heart, his covers of British songs from the 1960s.

She is survived by her husband, Jonathan Greenfield, and her two sons, Jason and Austin.