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Danbury resident Ronnie Spector, '60s icon who sang 'Be My Baby,' dies at 78

NEW YORK (AP) — Ronnie Spector, the cat-eyed, bee-hived rock ‘n’ roll siren who sang such 1960s hits as “Be My Baby,” “Baby I Love You” and “Walking in the Rain” as the leader of the girl group The Ronettes, has died. She was 78.

Spector died Wednesday after a brief battle with cancer, her family said. “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,” a statement said. No other details were revealed.

Spector, alongside her sister Estelle Bennett and cousin Nedra Talley, scored hits with pop masterpieces like “Baby, I Love You,” “Walking in the Rain,” “I Can Hear Music” and “Be My Baby,” which was co-written by Spector, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich.

Spector, born Veronica Bennett, and her multiracial bandmates grew up in the Washington Heights area of Manhattan. They began singing and dancing in clubs as Ronnie and the Relatives, becoming noteworthy for their liberal use of eyeliner and mascara.

In March 1963, Estelle Bennett managed to arrange an audition in front of Phil Spector, known for his big, brass-and-drum style dubbed the “wall of sound.” They were signed to Philles Records in 1963. After being signed, they sang backup for other acts until Spector had the group record “Be My Baby” and “Baby I Love You.”

The group’s debut album, “Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica,” was released in 1964. Five of its 12 tracks had made it to the U.S. Billboard charts.

After touring Germany in 1967, the Ronettes broke up. Spector married Ronnie in 1968. Her 1990 autobiography “Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts And Madness” tells an unhappy story of abuse.  He surprised her by adopting twins, and kept her captive in their Beverly Hills mansion, taking her shoes to keep her from leaving. That did not stop her from running away barefoot to get away from him.

The couple divorced in 1974. Phil Spector was sent to prison in 2009 for the murder of actress Lana Clarkson and died in 2021.

When the Ronettes were inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones remembered opening for the trio in England in the mid-1960s. “They could sing all their way right through a wall of sound,” Richards said. “They didn’t need anything. They touched my heart right there and then and they touch it still.”

After the Ronettes broke up, Spector continued to tour and make music, including “Take Me Home Tonight” with Eddie Money, recording Joel’s “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” with Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, and recording the 1999 EP “She Talks to Rainbows,” which included her first ever recording of “Don’t Worry Baby,” written for her by Brian Wilson.

In 2006, she released “Last of the Rock Stars,” her first album in 20 years and it featured appearances by the Raconteurs, Keith Richards, Patti Smith and the Raveonettes. In 2010 she released a doo-wop Christmas EP called “Ronnie Spector’s Best Christmas Ever” and in 2016 released “English Heart,” her covers of songs from Britain in the ’60s.

She is survived her husband, Jonathan Greenfield, and two sons, Jason and Austin.

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Todd Schnitt

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