The Ronettes’ Ronnie Spector died at the age of 78.
Ronnie Spector, the vocalist who founded the girl group The Ronettes in 1961, has died after a brief battle with cancer. At the time, she was 78 years old.
Ronnie, our dear earth angel, left this world quietly tonight,” her family posted on the singer’s website on Wednesday. “She was in the arms of her husband, Jonathan, and surrounded by family. Ronnie had a glint in her eye, a sassy demeanor, a wicked sense of humor, and a big smile on her face. She was overflowing with thanks and affection. All who knew heard or saw her will remember her cheerful sound, humorous personality, and beautiful presence.”
Spector was born in the Spanish Harlem neighborhood of New York City. She formed The Ronettes with her older sister Estelle Bennett and cousin Nedra Talley when she was still in her teens. The girl trio had a succession of musical singles, including “Be My Baby,” “Walking In The Rain,” and “Do I Love You.”
Her husband was Phil Spector, who produced and wrote many of those hits. Ronnie Spector documented the assault in her memoir, Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts, and Madness, published in 1990 after she was abused and barred from performing. Early in the 1970s, they split up.
She told WHYY’s Fresh Air in 1987 that she recorded “Be My Baby” when she was 16 years old. “It was wonderful because I was recording in California, and I’d never left New York,” she said. In my entire life, I had never left New York. And now I’m on a plane to California by myself, without the other two Ronettes, to perform the main role. And I mean, I remember singing in the ladies’ room at the New York airport because I don’t read music or play any instruments. So it was as if you had to memorize it over and over again.”
The Ronettes supported big rock acts such as The Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton on stage. In 1966, the Beatles hand-picked the quartet to join them on their U.S. tour.
Ronnie Spector had a difficult time reestablishing her career after the abuse. Bruce Springsteen, the E Street Band, and Billy Joel, on the other hand, encouraged her.
Springsteen was in the middle of a court fight with previous management that stopped him from recording a song named “Say Goodbye to Hollywood,” and Joel had composed a song called “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” with the sound of The Ronettes in his ear. Steven Van Zandt, a guitarist, and producer, used the occasion to get Spector back into the studio with the E Street Band, this time to record a rendition of Joel’s song.
Van Zandt commented on Twitter after Spector’s death: “It was a privilege to produce her and inspire her to return to the stage, where she would stay for the next 45 years. Her work with the E Street Band was vital in keeping us afloat during a difficult period.”
Eddie Money’s 1986 smash “Take Me Home Tonight” included her in a remarkable solo. “Listen, honey; it’s just like Ronnie sung…” Money says as Spector enters to sing “be my little baby” — followed by her iconic “oh, oh, oh.”
In 2007, the Ronettes were honored by being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The 429 labels published her last solo album, English Heart, in 2016.
According to his relatives, Spector requested donations “to your local women’s shelter or to the American Indian College Fund” in lieu of flowers.
A memorial service honoring Spector’s life and music will be held at a later date.
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