Ronnie Spector, who sang some of the greatest songs of the ’60s and was referred to as the original “bad girl of rock ‘n’ roll,” has died. She was 78 and fought a short battle with cancer.
A statement released to Spector’s social media pages and website 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.”
Spector, who was born Veronica Bennett, first found fame as a member of the Ronettes, a trio she formed in 1957 with her older sister and a friend. In 1963, Phil Spector signed the group to his label and produced its first hit single, “Be My Baby,” which includes one of the most recognizable song intros in pop-music history.
The song influenced scores of artists in the coming years, including Brian Wilson, who started shaping the Beach Boys’ music to sound more like Spector’s famous Wall of Sound.
The Ronettes scored more hits over the next few years, including “Baby, I Love You” and “Walking in the Rain.” All of their hit singles were produced by Phil Spector, who married Ronnie in 1968. The group had split up a year before that.
The Spectors separated in 1972, by which time Ronnie was pursuing a solo career. (She had recorded a few solo singles in the ’60s while doubling her time as a member of the Ronettes.) Even though none of her solo hits or albums had much presence on the charts in the ’70s, the influence of her ’60s songs grew. She picked up some famous fans, including Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s Steven Van Zandt, who worked on her solo records.
In 1986, after years away from any chart success, the late Eddie Money recruited Spector to sing on his hit single “Take Me Home Tonight,” where she sang her famous “Be My Baby” chorus in reply to Money’s line “Just like Ronnie sang.” The song went to No. 4, the biggest hit of Money’s career.
Listen to the Ronettes’ ‘Be My Baby’
“I called up Ronnie Spector, and I said ‘Ronnie, this is Eddie Money and there’s a song here, and it’s a real tribute to you,'” Money told UCR’s Matt Wardlaw in 2014. “‘It’s called ‘Take Me Home Tonight,’ and ‘be my little baby’ is the second part of the chorus.’ So she came down and did the video with me, which was fantastic. She looked amazing and the video was great. We’ve been friends ever since. She’s a real sweetheart.”
The hit song sparked a resurgence in Spector’s career. She wrote a memoir in 1990, Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts and Madness, Or, My Life as a Fabulous Ronette, and performed on soundtracks during this era. In 2007 she was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Ronettes. In his induction speech, Keith Richards made reference to her being the original “bad girl of rock ‘n’ roll.”
In 2020, it was announced that a biopic based on her memoir starring Zendaya as Spector would be going into production.
In Memoriam: 2021 Deaths
Remembering the musicians, actors, producers and others who have died in 2021.