Ronnie Spector, the trailblazing rock star and lead singer of the 1960s girl group, The Ronettes, has passed away at the age of 78.
Spector is mostly known for her group’s 1963 biggest hit, “Be My Baby,” which reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Spector’s passing was confirmed by her family in a statement saying she had “a brief battle with cancer.”
“Our beloved earth angel, Ronnie, peacefully left this world today after a brief battle with cancer,” the family’s statement read. “She was with family and in the arms of her husband, Jonathan. Ronnie lived her life with a twinkle in her eye, a spunky attitude, a wicked sense of humor, and a smile on her face.”
The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer was born as Veronica Bennette in Washington Heights, New York where she loved to sing. After much encouragement from her family, Spector formed a group that included her older sister, Estelle Bennette, and their cousin, Nedra Talley. The Ronettes not only began to generate buzz across the New York City music scene for performing in nightclubs, but their look seemed to be a huge hit with their audience as well. Spector’s signature Bouffant hairstyle, paired along with her exaggerated, heavy eye makeup created a distinguished image that set her apart from her fellow peer groups.
“The louder they applauded, the more mascara we put on the next time. 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,” she wrote in her memoir.
The Ronettes would eventually score an audition with one of the most successful music producers and songwriters of the ‘60s, Phil Spector. At the age of 21, the producer co-founded Philles Records, making him the youngest label owner at that time. Along with The Ronettes, he would produce for acts such as Ike and Tina, and the Crystal.
Not long after the group signed their record deal, Bennett (Ronnie) and Phill Spector began an affair. During the early years of her romance with Spector, The Ronettes achieved chart success with songs like “Be My Baby” (1963), “Baby, I Love You” (1963), and “Do I Love You” (1964).
The group’s 1964 debut album produced five songs that would make it to the Billboard charts, taking the group to the height of superstardom.
Ronnie went on to marry her manager Phill Spector in 1968. From that marriage, they adopted three children. The star would leave her marriage, fleeing on foot in 1972, in what she described as a severely abusive relationship. In her 1993 memoir “Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts and Madness,” she described her ex-husband as a violent man who would hold her hostage in a house surrounded by barbed wire. The singer said that she was subjected to psychological abuse, and prevented from leaving due to her husband keeping a coffin in their basement. She was told that she would be killed if she ever left Spector.
After finally mustering up the courage to leave her husband, Ronnie restructured her career and continued to tour, while still using her professional surname, Spector.
Phill Spector would be convicted for the murder of actress Lana Clark 2003 and die in prison in 2021.
In the ‘80s and ‘90s, The Ronnettes went on to experience the success of a career resurgence thanks to pop and rock radio, along with their songs being used in commercials.