Ronnie Spector: 'Be My Baby' singer dies aged 78

The singer had a brief battle with cancer

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Ronnie Spector, the rock ‘n’ roll siren who sang such 1960s hits as Be My Baby and Walking in the Rain as the leader of girl group The Ronettes, has died aged 78.

She died on Wednesday 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.” No other details were revealed.

The Ronettes’ powerful vocals – plus songwriting and producing help from Phil Spector (whom she married in 1968) – turned them into one of the premier acts of the girl-group era, touring England with the Rolling Stones and befriending the Beatles.

Ronnie, alongside her sister Estelle Bennett and cousin Nedra Talley, scored hits with pop masterpieces such as Baby, I Love You, Walking in the Rain, I Can Hear Music and Be My Baby, which was co-written by Phil, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich.

“We weren’t afraid to be hot. That was our gimmick,” Ronnie said in her 1990 memoir Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts And Madness.

“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.”

Ronnie, born Veronica Bennett, and her 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, Bennett managed to arrange an audition in front of Phil, known for his big, brass-and-drum style dubbed the “wall of sound”.

They were signed to Phillies Records in 1963. They sang back-up for other acts until Phil had the group record their famous hits.

Their debut album, Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica, was released in 1964. Five of its 12 tracks made it into the US Billboard charts.

After touring Germany in 1967, The Ronettes broke up. After Phil and Ronnie's 1968 marriage, she said he kept her locked in their Beverly Hills mansion.

Her autobiography tells an unhappy story of abuse. The couple divorced in 1974. Phil was sent to prison in 2009 for the murder of actress Lana Clarkson and died in 2021.

Ronnie’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 Ronnie as an idol.

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

Updated: January 13, 2022, 9:52 AM
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