Ronnie Spector, Ronettes Singer, Dead at 78

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Ronnie Spector (Photo from her official website)

Ronnie Spector, the singer who fronted the “girl group” the Ronettes, whose single “Be My Baby” was a #2 hit in 1963, died today (Jan. 12, 2022). She was 78.

According to a statement from her family, the vocalist, who was born Veronica Yvette Bennett on Aug. 1, 1943, in New York City, died following a brief battle with cancer.

According to an official bio on her website, Spector was born and raised in Spanish Harlem. She formed the Ronettes while in her teens and released her first records in 1961 on the Colpix label.

A British 45 RPM picture sleeve of the Ronettes’ biggest hit

The Ronettes were also professional singers and dancers at New York’s Peppermint Lounge. There they were discovered by legendary disc jockey Murray the K (Murray Kaufman), who promptly hired them as dancers for his Brooklyn Fox Theater rock and roll revues.

Beginning in 1963, Ronnie Spector—as lead singer of the Ronettes, which also included her older sister Estelle Bennett, and their cousin Nedra Talley—recorded a long string of classic pop hits, including the Grammy Award-winning “Walking in the Rain,” “Do I Love You,” “Baby I Love You,” “(The Best Part of) Breaking Up” and “I Can Hear Music.”

The Ronettes headlined over acts like the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds, and the Beatles personally requested that the Ronettes join their final U.S. tour in August 1966.

The Ronettes (Photo from Ronnie Spector’s website)

The Ronettes broke up in 1967 and Ronnie Bennett married the group’s producer, Phil Spector, in 1968. The tumultuous marriage ended in divorce  in 1974. Phil Spector died nearly a year to the day before Ronnie, on Jan. 16, 2021, of Covid-19.

Related: Our obituary of Phil Spector

Darlene Love, long associated with both Phil and Ronnie Spector, wrote of her friend, “I’m in total shock! Did not see this one coming. Please give me time to process my thoughts to give Ronnie the proper tribute she deserves. She and I shared so much together. 💔”

In 1971, Ronnie Spector released her Apple Records debut single, “Try Some, Buy Some,” written and produced by George Harrison, with a backing band that included Harrison, John Lennon and Ringo Starr.

In 1976, Billy Joel wrote “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” as a tribute to Ronnie. The next year, she recorded the song with backing by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, and it was issued as a single on Epic Records.

In 1986, her duet with Eddie Money—”Take Me Home Tonight”—reached #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and hung on the chart for 26 weeks. The song was nominated for a Grammy Award and the video received heavy rotation on MTV.

Ronnie Spector onstage at Madison Square Garden in 1989 (Photo from her website)

In 1989, Ronnie Spector published her memoir, Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts, and Madness. An updated edition is being published on May 3.

In 1999, Spector released the critically acclaimed EP She Talks to Rainbows on the indie label Kill Rock Stars. Highlights included Johnny Thunders’ ‘You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory,’ and a duet with EP producer Joey Ramone on his own composition ‘Bye Bye Baby.’ Also in 1999, “Be My Baby” was added to the Grammy Hall of Fame.

In 2000, after a 15-year legal battle, Ronnie Spector won a landmark decision in the New York State courts. The ruling eased the way for veteran artists of the ’50s and ’60s to collect past-due royalties on their old recordings.

She was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2004.

In 2006, ‘Be My Baby’ was added to the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress, preserved as a work of historical and cultural significance. In 2007, the Ronettes were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Beach Boys leader Brian Wilson was among those paying tribute to Spector.

Her album, The Last of the Rock Stars, was released in 2009.

In the summer of 2012, Spector debuted her biographical one-woman multi–media show Beyond the Beehive in New York.

In 2017, “Be My Baby’ was named by Billboard as the #1 Greatest Girl Group Song of All Time, and Spector was presented with the Legend Award by the Woman’s International Music Network at their She Rocks Award ceremony. Also in 2017, Spector released “Love Power,” her first single recorded with the Ronettes in decades.”

The influence of the Ronettes remains incalculable, impacting the likes of Amy Winehouse, among many others. Joan Jett wrote, “Our dear friend Ronnie Spector, has passed. She was the sweetest person you could ever know. And her mark on rock and roll is indelible.”

In his tribute, Bob Seger referenced the lyrics to his song, “Night Moves.”

“…started hummin’ a song from 1962,” he wrote. “‘Be My Baby’ is among my favorite songs of all time. Ronnie was such a great singer and a wonderful person. I will miss her like crazy.”

Related: Spector talks about “Be My Baby” and her biggest influence

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  1. Damian
    #1 Damian 13 January, 2022, 08:10

    Ugh! We already lost some amazing people in the past 2 weeks and this just another gut-punch. Ronnie was so strong, gifted and beautiful. RIP

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  2. RecordSteve
    #2 RecordSteve 15 January, 2022, 20:16

    Thanks for paying homage to a great singer of The Hall of Fame & now Rock & Roll Heaven.
    I always liked (Walking) in the Rain Special Effect for rainstorm won Grammy in’65
    Cher was backup vocalist & Ronnie’s vocals done in 1st take! I also like cover version by Jay Black & The Americans in ’70…RIPeace….

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