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. She was 78.
Spector died 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 humor and a smile on her face. She was filled with love and gratitude,” a statement said. No other details were revealed.
Tributes flooded social media, from 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 a dear friend.” Diane Warren called her “The voice of a million teenage dreams including mine.”
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.
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.”
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.” They were signed to Philles 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.