The world is still reeling over the death of Ronnie Spector: the iconic lead singer for ’60s girl group The Ronettes. After a battle with cancer, she died at 78.
A statement from the family was released on Spector’s website confirming her passing. It reads, “Our beloved earth angel, Ronnie, peacefully left this world today after a brief battle with cancer. 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. She was filled with love and gratitude.”
Born Veronica Bennett in the Spanish Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan, Spector started singing from an early age, joining a family group with sister Estelle Bennett and cousin Nedra Talley. At first, they were known as the Darling Sisters, before going through two rebrands to finally land on the name The Ronettes.
After an initial run of unsuccessful singles in the early 60s, they started to gain some traction in 1963 thanks to producer Phil Spector, who saw the group's potential. “Be My Baby,” the group's first release under Phil's Philles Records, ended up being a chart-topper, peaking at #2 on the chart in 1963.
As the frontwoman for the vocal trio, Spector sang on some of the most recognizable pop hits of the 1960s, including “Walking in the Rain,” “Baby I Love You,” and "Do I Love You?" To this day, The Ronettes can be heard far and wide, as the group's Christmas bop "Sleigh Ride" even creeped up onto the Billboard Hot 100 during the 2021 holiday season.
Among other accomplishments, The Ronettes opened for the Beatles during their 1966 U.S. tour, becoming the only girl group to tour with them. The group was even later inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the 2000s.
In 1967, the trio fell apart, leading Ronnie to go solo. She would go on to release a number of singles and albums as a solo artist, but never saw the scale of commercial success of The Ronettes.
By 1968, Ronnie married Phil Spector and took his last name. Unfortunately, the marriage turned abusive and Ronnie said she was essentially held prisoner by the producer for most of their marriage. They were divorced in 1974, after which Ronnie attempted to revive The Ronettes with new non-family members.
Ultimately, Ronnie found her last commercial success in Eddie Money's 1986 song "Take Me Home Tonight." Featuring her infamous “Be My Baby” hook on the chorus, the song was an enormous hit, peaking at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100.
While Ronnie would never have another hit single, she continued to record and perform into her 70s. Often known as the "bad girl of rock and roll," Spector left her mark on the future generations of rock and pop stars, with the likes of Joey Ramone and Amy Winehouse citing her as a key inspiration. She'd also still be moved by her own songs on the radio during the holiday season. She told Billboard in 2019, “When I get in my car and hear ‘Sleigh Ride’ and ‘Frosty the Snowman,’ I get goosepimples. When I’m driving, I pull over just to hear my songs. I get chills just thinking about it.”
Spector is survived by her husband, Jonathan Greenfield, and their two sons. Following Spector’s death, her family has requested that donations be made “to your local woman’s shelter, or to the American Indian College fund.” The family will also be announcing “a celebration of Ronnie’s life and music” at a date to be determined, and ask for privacy until that time.
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Article Image: Ronnie Spector holding her arm out as she performs in 2014. (MK Feeney [CC BY 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons.)