Ronnie Spector, who died of cancer at age 78, was the lead singer of The Ronettes, an American all-female trio whose vocal talents were combined with the “Wall of Sound” created by pioneering producer Phil Spector, whom she married, to conquer the charts. storm with the single “Be My Baby” in 1963.
The tensions of “Be my, be my baby/Be my little baby, my only baby/Say you’ll be my darling, be my, be my baby/Be my baby now, my only baby/What-oh-oh-oh ‘” reached No. 2 in the US and No. 4 in the UK, selling over a million copies.
The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson was impressed by the sound and credited Phil Spector with being “the biggest inspiration in my world” after hearing “Be My Baby”.
Ronnie, while still Veronica Bennett, had started singing with her older sister Estelle and cousin Nedra Talley, billed as the Dolly Sisters, while in high school.
After Chubby Checker scored a No. 1 with the Hank Ballard song “The Twist” in 1960, the trio performed it as resident dancers and vocalists at Peppermint Lounge clubs in New York and Miami, starting the dance craze. Twist that spread throughout the United States. They also appeared on DJ Clay Cole’s Twist Package tour.
Then, in 1963, Spector, dubbed the “teen mogul” for forming female vocal groups like The Crystals to appeal to the teen market at a time when rock’n’roll was king, spotted The Ronettes at the Brooklyn Fox Theatre.
Particularly impressed by Ronnie’s voice and outgoing nature, he signed the trio to his own Philles label and took them into the recording studio to make “Be My Baby” and their next single, “Baby, I Love You” (1964). showcasing his exaggerated arrangements and use of multiple instruments to their best effect yet.
But that follow-up and the next two releases, “(The Best Part of) Breakin’ Up” and “Do I Love You?” (both from 1964), never came close to matching the first.
However, Ronnie later recalled, “For three years, from 1963 to 1966, we had the best of times getting ready to go onstage, our dresses ripped up the sides, our hives sprayed with Aquanet… the excitement of the crowd as we walked out.” “. on the stage.”
The group, which years later Amy Winehouse paid tribute to with her beehive hairstyles and wings painted on the corners of her eyes, finally disbanded in 1966.
Two years later, Ronnie married Phil, but the relationship turned abusive due to the producer’s extreme jealousy.
In his 1990 autobiography, Be My Baby: I survived mascara, miniskirts and madness, she revealed that he banned her from performing, locked her in his Beverly Hills mansion, which he turned into a fortress, surrounded by barbed wire and guard dogs, and kept a gold coffin in the basement, threatening to kill her if she tried to leave. he.
He also adopted a set of twins, Gary and Louis, as a 1971 Christmas present without asking. (They had already adopted a son, Donte, in 1969.)
With the help of his mother, who fought him, he finally escaped in 1972. Divorce followed two years later and revived his solo career, while the producer’s ancestry ultimately led to his being convicted of murder after shooting to death. to Lana Clarkson. actor, in 2003.
Veronica Yvette Bennett was born in Washington Heights, in the Upper Manhattan borough of New York, to Beatrice (née Mobley), an African-American Cherokee, and Lewis Bennett, an Irish-American who worked on the subway.
She and Estelle were bullied at George Washington High School because of their mixed race, but found an outlet in singing, forming their first group with Nedra and three other cousins when they were 14, and debuting at the Apollo Theater.
When his cousin Ira froze at the microphone, Ronnie jumped in. “The audience went crazy,” he said. The act was reduced to a trio and adopted the name of Darling Sisters.
After taking voice lessons, they signed to Colpix Records, which in 1961 and 1962 released four unsuccessful singles, beginning as Ronnie and the Relatives with “I Want a Boy” before changing their name to The Ronettes.
Following a tip from Ronnie’s mother to stuff their bras with tissue paper, they were booked to perform at the Peppermint Lounge in 1962. When DJ Murray Kaufman saw the group there, they became dancers in his rock and roll revues in the Brooklyn Fox. Theatre.
Ronnie said her sister then called Phil Spector, though Nedra disputed that story, but, whatever the truth, she was looking for talent and hired them on the spot.
Along with their early singles, The Ronettes performed “Frosty the Snowman”, “Sleigh Ride”, and “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” on Phil Spector’s 1963 multi-artist compilation album. A Christmas present for you. They began the following year on a tour of Britain, with the Rolling Stones as support, when Ronnie dated John Lennon.
After four singles with the producer and tours of the United States and Europe in 1963 and 1964, the group’s popularity declined rapidly.
The dramatic ballad “Walking in the Rain” (1964) reached only No. 23 in the US and failed to chart in the UK, where it was renamed “In the Rain” for copyright reasons.
For a 1965 US tour supporting The Beatles, Ronnie was replaced by her cousin Elaine after leaving the group to be with her producer boyfriend.
He returned for The Ronettes’ last single, “I Can Hear Music” (1966), before they broke up.
During her marriage to Phil Spector, Ronnie recorded some tracks at Abbey Road Studios, London, with him and former Beatle George Harrison as producers. The only single, Harrison’s song “Try Some, Buy Some” (1971), failed to impress.
Ronnie revived the Ronettes with Denise Edwards and Chip Fields, releasing singles in 1973 and 1974 that also failed to hit the charts, before starting a solo career in 1975 that was hampered by a ban on performing Ronettes songs like part of your divorce agreement.
His own alcoholism meant that Phil was given custody of the couple’s adopted children.
He returned to the US charts to reach number 4 in 1986 alongside Eddie Money on his single “Take Me Home Tonight”, singing parts of the “Be My Baby” chorus in counterpoint, uncredited.
Two years later, The Ronettes sued Phil Spector for canceling his five-year record deal and recovering money earned from the sale of his master recordings and unpaid royalties.
During the lengthy legal battle, a judge threw out her claim that Ronnie gave up her royalty rights in her divorce settlement.
In 2000, the three original members of the group received a total of $2.6 million, after they claimed to have received only $15,000 in royalties, but that was overturned two years later on appeal and they ended up with a lower sum not revealed.
Ronnie told the story of her marriage when she starred in beyond the hive, a musical that toured the United States successfully in 2012 and the United Kingdom two years later.
His latest album, english heart (2016), was a Top 10 hit in the US, although her voice was a shadow of its former self.
In 1982, Ronnie married Jonathan Greenfield, who worked in theater production and later became her manager. He and his two sons, Jason and Austin, survive her. Estelle died in 2009.
Ronnie Spector, singer, born August 10, 1943, died January 12, 2022.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.