NEW YORK (Associated Press) – Ronnie Spector, the cat-eyed rock-and-roll siren who sang 1960s songs like “Be My Baby”, “Baby I Love You” and “Walking in the Rain” is dead. Ronettes. She was 78 years old.
Her family said Spector died Wednesday after a brief battle with cancer. Ronnie lived her life with a sparkle in her eyes, a brave attitude, a wicked sense of humor and a smile on her face. It was full of love and gratitude. No other details were disclosed.
Expressions of appreciation flooded social mediaFrom Stevie Van Zandt saying it was an honor to be produced, to Brian Wilson, who wrote on Twitter: “I loved her voice so much she was a very special person and a dear friend.” Diane Warren described her as “the voice of a million teens’ dreams including mine”.
The Ronettes’ sexy form and powerful vocals—plus songwriting and assisting from Phil Spector—turned into one of the major acts of the girl group era, touring England with The Rolling Stones and befriending the Beatles.
Spector, along with her sister Estelle Bennett and cousin Nidra Tally, has recorded hits such as “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 Eli Greenwich.
“We weren’t afraid to be hot. That was our trick,” Spector said in her diary. “When we saw The Shirelles walking on stage in baggy party dresses, we went in the opposite direction and pressed our bodies into the narrowest skirts we could find. Then we go out on stage and lift them up to show our legs more.”
Spector, who was born Veronica Bennett, and her multiracial colleagues grew up in the Washington Heights area of Manhattan. They began singing and dancing in clubs like Rooney and Relatives, and became notable for their liberal use of eyeliner and mascara.
“The louder they clap, the more mascara we put on next,” she wrote in her diary. “We didn’t have a record of success to get their attention, so we had to make an impression with our style. None of it was planned. We just threw on and expanded the look we were born with.”
In March 1963, Estelle Bennett was able to arrange an audition for Phil Spector, known for his massive, brassy and drum style nicknamed “The Wall of Sound”. They were signed to Philles Records in 1963. After they were 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 features Veronica”, was released in 1964. Five of their 12 songs reached the US Billboard charts.
“Nothing excites me more than just being on stage, having fun and flirting and winking at guys and things like that,” she told People magazine in 2017. It’s the best feeling when I come out and say, “Ladies and gentlemen…” – my heart stopped for a minute – “… Ronnie Spector and Ronitz!” Then I go in there and the audience reacts the way they react and I can keep singing forever.”
After touring Germany in 1967, the Roents family broke up. Spector married Ronnie in 1968, then said he kept her in their Beverly Hills mansion. Her 1990 autobiography, Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts, and Madness tells a sad story of abuse. The couple separated in 1974, Phil Spector was imprisoned in 2009 for the murder of actress Lana Clarkson and died in 2021..
The influence of Ronnie Spector was widely felt. Brian Wilson became obsessed with “Be My Baby” and Billy Joel wrote “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” in honor of Spector. Amy Winehouse often cited Spector as a fetish.
Martin Scorsese used “Be My Baby” to open his 1973 movie “Mean Streets” and the song appears in the title sequence “Dirty Dancing” and the closing credits of Baby Mama. She also appeared on TV in the dramas “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 can sing all the way right through a wall of sound,” Richards said. “They didn’t need anything. They touched my heart there and then and they still touch it.”
After the breakup of the Ronitz family, Spector continued to tour and make music, including the song Take Me Home Tonight with Eddie Money, the recording of Joel’s Say Goodbye to Hollywood with Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, and the recording of the 1999 musical segment She Talks to Rainbows,” which included Her first-ever recording of “Don’t Worry My Love,” was written for her by Brian Wilson.
In 2006 she released “Last of the Rock Stars”, her first album in 20 years, featuring the Raconteurs, Keith Richards, Patti Smith and the Raveonettes. In 2010 she released a wonderful Christmas album called “Ronnie Spector’s Best Christmas Ever” and in 2016 she released “English Heart”, the covers of her songs from Britain in the 1960s.
She is survived by her husband, Jonathan Greenfield, and two sons, Jason and Austin.
Mark Kennedy in http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits