Ronnie Spector, ’60s icon and frontwoman of The Ronettes who sang Be My Baby, dead of cancer at 78


Ronnie Spector, frontwoman of The Ronettes who sang Be My Baby and was briefly married to Phil Spector, dies aged 78 after cancer battle

  • Ronnie Spector of The Ronettes has died at the age of 78 after a brief cancer battle
  • The New York-born singer is famed for 1960s hits Be My Baby and Walking in the Rain
  • She was married for six years to Phil Spector, the disgraced music producer who died in January 2021 while in prison for the 2003 murder of Lana Clarkson
  • Her family paid tribute to the ‘twinkle in her eye, spunky attitude, wicked sense of humor and smile on her face’


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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 the leader of the girl group The Ronettes, has died at 78.

The music icon passed away on Wednesday following a brief battle with cancer,  according to her family. 

No other details regarding the artist’s death have been revealed.

Her loved ones released a statement which read: ‘Ronnie lived her life with a twinkle in her eye, a spunky attitude, a wicked sense of humor and a smile on her face. She was filled with love and gratitude.’  

Ronnie Spector married music producer Phil Spector 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 January 2021, aged 81. 

Ronnie Spector of The Ronettes (seen in December 2018) - singer of 1960s hits Be My Baby, Baby I Love You, and Walking in the Rain, has died at 78, after brief battle with cancer

Ronnie Spector of The Ronettes (seen in December 2018) - singer of 1960s hits Be My Baby, Baby I Love You, and Walking in the Rain, has died at 78, after brief battle with cancer

Ronnie Spector of The Ronettes (seen in December 2018) – singer of 1960s hits Be My Baby, Baby I Love You, and Walking in the Rain, has died at 78, after brief battle with cancer 

Ronnie Spector is seen with Phil Spector in the recording studio in 1963. They married in 1968 and divorced in 1974 after a tumultuous marriage

Ronnie Spector is seen with Phil Spector in the recording studio in 1963. They married in 1968 and divorced in 1974 after a tumultuous marriage

Ronnie Spector is seen with Phil Spector in the recording studio in 1963. They married in 1968 and divorced in 1974 after a tumultuous marriage

The Ronettes (seen left to right: Nedra Talley, Estelle Bennett and Veronica Bennett, later Ronnie Spector) were one of the premier girl groups of the 1960s, with their sexy look and powerful voices - plus songwriting and producing help from Phil Spector

The Ronettes (seen left to right: Nedra Talley, Estelle Bennett and Veronica Bennett, later Ronnie Spector) were one of the premier girl groups of the 1960s, with their sexy look and powerful voices - plus songwriting and producing help from Phil Spector

The Ronettes (seen left to right: Nedra Talley, Estelle Bennett and Veronica Bennett, later Ronnie Spector) were one of the premier girl groups of the 1960s, with their sexy look and powerful voices – plus songwriting and producing help from Phil Spector

Spector's memoir - with a foreword by Keith Richards - was published in 2004

Spector's memoir - with a foreword by Keith Richards - was published in 2004

Spector’s memoir – with a foreword by Keith Richards – was published in 2004

The Ronettes’ sexy look and powerful voices – plus songwriting and producing help from Phil Spector – turned them into one of the premier acts of the girl-group era, touring England with the Rolling Stones and befriending the Beatles. 

Phil Spector is seen in 2004, during a court hearing. He was convicted for the 2003 murder of actress Lana Clarkson and died in prison in January 2021

Phil Spector is seen in 2004, during a court hearing. He was convicted for the 2003 murder of actress Lana Clarkson and died in prison in January 2021

Phil Spector is seen in 2004, during a court hearing. He was convicted for the 2003 murder of actress Lana Clarkson and died in prison in January 2021

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.’ 

 

 

The Ronettes grew up in the Washington Heights area of Manhattan, and are seen in 1964

The Ronettes grew up in the Washington Heights area of Manhattan, and are seen in 1964

The Ronettes grew up in the Washington Heights area of Manhattan, and are seen in 1964

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.

‘The louder they applauded, the more mascara we put on the next time,’ she wrote in her memoir. 

‘We didn’t have a hit record to grab their attention, so we had to make an impression with our style. None of it was planned out; we just took the look we were born with and extended it.’

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.’ 

Spector released the album English Heart in 2016 - a covers album that was her fifth studio record

Spector released the album English Heart in 2016 - a covers album that was her fifth studio record

Spector released the album English Heart in 2016 – a covers album that was her fifth studio record

Ronnie Spector is seen with her band mates Nedra Talley and Estelle Bennett

Ronnie Spector is seen with her band mates Nedra Talley and Estelle Bennett

Ronnie Spector is seen with her band mates Nedra Talley and Estelle Bennett

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 had made it to the U.S. Billboard charts.

‘Nothing excites me more than just being onstage, having fun and flirting and winking to the 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 minute – ‘…Ronnie Spector and the Ronettes!’ 

‘Then I just go out there and the crowd reacts the way they react and I can go on singing forever.’

Spector is pictured in the press room after performing at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony on March 15, 2010, in New York

Spector is pictured in the press room after performing at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony on March 15, 2010, in New York

Spector is pictured in the press room after performing at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony on March 15, 2010, in New York

After touring Germany in 1967, the Ronettes broke up.  

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 Spector’s honor. 

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.’ 

It also appeared on TV in ‘Moonlighting’ and ‘The Wonder Years.’

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 England 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.’

After the Ronettes broke up, 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 the 1999 EP ‘She Talks to Rainbows’. The song 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 the Raconteurs, Keith Richards, Patti Smith and the Raveonettes. 

In 2010 she released a doo-wop Christmas EP called ‘Ronnie Spector’s Best Christmas Ever’ and in 2016 released ‘English Heart,’ her covers of songs from Britain in the ’60s.

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

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