Ronnie Spector, lead singer of the iconic 1960s girl group the Ronettes, died Wednesday, Jan. 12, after a brief battle with cancer. She was 78.
“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,” the family said in an official statement on Ronnie Spector’s website. “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. Her joyful sound, playful nature and magical presence will live on in all who knew, heard or saw her.”
Known as the little lady with the big voice, Ronnie Spector and the Ronettes made waves for a decade belting out classic tunes like “Beehive” and “Be My Baby” – which is listed at No. 22 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
Ronnie Spector was born Veronica Yvette Bennett on August 10, 1943 in New York’s East or Spanish Harlem neighborhood. Her mother was Black and Cherokee and her father Irish American. Encouraged to pursue singing by their family, Spector, her sister Estelle Bennett and their cousin Nedra Talley formed the Darling Sisters – which was eventually renamed the Ronettes.
They were signed to Phil Spector’s label, Phillies Records, in 1963 after seeking him out, according to “Wall of Pain: The Biography of Phil Spector.” They went on to make history together.
With a string of chart-topping hits like “Walking In The Rain” and “Baby I Love You,” the Ronettes were voted the third top singing group in England in 1965 behind the Beatles and Rolling Stones. Ronnie Spector was also dubbed the “original bad girl of rock n’ roll,” according to The Age.
“All the musicians dropped whatever they were holding, their horns and guitars, and they were looking at this new girl in town,” Spector recalled during an interview with Rolling Stone in 2016. “All the musicians were yelling, ‘Oh, my God. Her voice!’ And I’m saying, ‘Me? A little girl from Spanish Harlem?’”
Ronnie Spector began having an affair with Phil Spector after signing to his label, though she says she didn’t initially know he was married. They subsequently married and she went on a forced hiatus from music for four years due to being in a controlling and abusive relationship. Then-husband Phil Spector forbade her from performing.
“He never let me read the newspaper or watch TV,” Ronnie Spector told The New Yorker in a 2012 interview. “I didn’t even know Woodstock had happened. And when Charles Manson killed those people on Aug. 10, 1969, right near us — I didn’t know that, either. All I knew was Phil started putting barbed wire up, and then the guard dogs, and then the guns.”
She eventually escaped the home, filed for divorce from Phil Spector and restarted The Ronettes with two different members. However, the group never achieved the same success and Ronnie Spector went on to revive her music career as a solo act.
Phil Spector ended up in prison for two murder convictions but did everything in his power to stop Ronnie Spector from reviving her career by trying to prevent her from performing her biggest hits. However, Ronnie Spector said she found a way around it.
“So, at the end of the performance, I bow, say, ‘Show’s over, folks, but stay for the concert,’ and then I come back out and do those two songs. Take that, Phil!” Ronnie Spector said.
Though rebuilding her career wasn’t easy, Ronnie Spector again found success in the late 1970s and began selling out shows again until 2019, when she did her last overseas gig in London, Pitchfork reported. Ronnie Spector also found love again with her manager, Jonathan Greenfield, with whom she had two sons.
She recorded endearing songs like a cover of Billy Joel’s “Say Goodbye to Hollywood,” “I’ll Follow The Sun,” and “Take Me Home Tonight,” a duet she performed with Eddie Money.
Ronnie Spector and The Ronettes sued Phil Spector for unpaid royalties, the master copies of their recordings and other compensation he’d cheated them out of.
“In June 2000, after a fifteen-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 Fifties and Sixties to collect past-due royalties on their old recordings,” Spector’s bio on her website states.
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The Ronettes were inducted into the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2007.
As a survivor of domestic and psychological abuse, Ronnie Spector was supportive of women’s rights and the #MeToo movement. “When I was making my hit records, my ex was always ‘the genius’ and you felt like: ‘Well, who am I?’” Spector once said. “You felt that small. I’m so glad I’m still on this Earth to see women going out there and saying: ‘You can be fabulous like me, you can do anything.’”
Ronnie Spector’s family has asked fans to donate to their local women’s shelter or the American Indian College Fund in lieu of flowers, adding details for her homegoing would be announced later.
Photo: Ronnie Spector in Philadelphia in 1984. Credit: Scott Weiner/MediaPunch /IPX