Ronnie Spector, lead singer of the ’60s doo-wop/rock ‘n’ roll group The Ronettes, died on Wednesday (Jan. 12) following a battle with cancer at the age of 78.
Her family announced the tragic news via a statement on her official website, which 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. Her joyful sound, playful nature and magical presence will live on in all who knew, heard or saw her. In lieu of flowers, Ronnie requested that donations be made to your local women’s shelter or to the American Indian College Fund. A celebration of Ronnie’s life and music will be announced in the future. The family respectfully asks for privacy at this time.”
Born Veronica Bennett in Spanish Harlem, N.Y., Ronnie Spector formed the Ronettes alongside her sister, Estelle Bennett, and cousin Nedra Talley during her teenage years. The group started out as performers in New York’s Peppermint Lounge and it was there Murray “Murray the K” Kaufman—a notable disc jockey—discovered them, initially hiring them as dancers in his Brooklyn Fox Theater rock ‘n’ roll revues.
In March 1963, Estelle arranged an audition with music producer Phil Spector, who was known for his musical style, which many considered to be the “wall of sound.” With him leading the charge on production and songwriting, Ronnie provided lead vocals on hit singles including “Do I Love You,” “Baby I Love You,” “The Best Part of Breaking Up,” “I Can Hear Music,” global chart-topper, “Be My Baby,” and the Grammy-winning tune, “Walking in the Rain.”
When the Ronettes became the No. 1 pop group in the U.K., they headlined gigs over other popular acts like the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton—even The Beatles personally asked them to join their last American tour in August 1966.
The Ronettes defined an era where pop and rock ‘n’ roll merged. The trio also became known for their bold, sultry looks and powerful voices—something Ronnie spoke about in her bestselling memoir published in 1990, Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts, and Madness.
“We weren’t afraid to be hot. That was our gimmick. When we saw The Shirelles walk on stage with their wide party dresses, we went in the opposite direction and squeezed our bodies into the tightest skirts we could find. Then we’d get out on stage and hike them up to show our legs even more,” recalled Spector.
“The louder they applauded, the more mascara we put on the next time,” she wrote in her memoir. “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.”
In 1967, the Ronettes disbanded, sparking Ronnie’s solo career. She released five solo albums during her tenure—Siren (1980), Unfinished Business (1987), Something’s Gonna Happen (2003), Last of the Rock Stars (2006), and English Heart (2016).
In her memoir, she also detailed the abuse she endured at the hands of her first husband, Phil Spector. They wed in 1968 and she alleges he kept her locked in their Beverly Hills mansion. They divorced in 1974. Ronnie later wed Jonathan Greenfield in 1982.
Following a 15-year legal battle, Ronnie won a New York State landmark case in June 2000 that made it easier for artists of the ’50s and ’60s to collect past-due royalties on their vintage recordings. In March 2007, the Ronettes, were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Spector is survived by her husband, Jonathan Greenfield, and two sons, Jason and Austin.
Watch below as the Ronettes perform “Be My Baby” at their Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. The 1963 single was added to the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999 and later preserved with the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress in 2006.