Ronnie Spector, founder of 1960s hit-maker Ronettes, dead at 78

The US group released a string of soulful hits in the 1960s including the ubiquitous Be My Baby.

Ronnie Spector the cat-eyed, bee-hived rock 'n' roll siren
Ronnie Spector, who sang 1960s hits including Be My Baby and Walking in the Rain has died at 78 [File: Peter Kramer/AP]

Ronnie Spector, the founder of 1960s hit-making group the Ronettes, has died at the age of 78 following a brief battle with cancer.

Sporting heavy “cat-eye” makeup and sky-high “beehive” hairdos, the Ronettes trio embodied the vampy new glamour of the era.

Their soulful hits, a combination of rhythm and blues, doo-wop and pop, shot them to global fame, with their biggest hit Be My Baby enduring as a popular culture mainstay and nostalgia-tinged time capsule.

“Our beloved earth angel, Ronnie, peacefully left this world today after a brief battle with cancer,” read a statement released by Spector’s family on Wednesday.

“Ronnie lived her life with a twinkle in her eye, a spunky attitude, a wicked sense of humour and a smile on her face,” the statement continued.

“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.”

Born Veronica Greenfield in New York’s Spanish Harlem on August 10, 1943, Spector was the daughter of an African American and Cherokee mother and Irish-American father.

As a teenager, she formed the musical group that became known as the Ronettes with her sister Estelle Bennett and cousin Nedra Talley.

Along with the Supremes, they became one of the period’s defining acts and the only girl group to tour with the Beatles.

In 2007, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones recalling opening for the Ronettes in the 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.”

The Ronettes broke up in 1967 following a European concert tour.

In 1968, Ronnie married music producer Phil Spector, who in 2009 was jailed for murder.

The pair divorced in 1974 and in her autobiography, the singer chronicled years of extreme abuse by her former husband, who died in 2021.

Following the breakup of the Ronettes, Spector continued a solo career, which included a number of collaborations with artists such as Eddie Money and Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band.

On Wednesday, tributes poured in for the singer with rocker Joan Jett calling her “the sweetest person you could ever know”.

“And her mark on rock and roll is indelible.”

Beach Boy Brian Wilson wrote on Twitter: “Ronnie’s music and spirit will live forever.”

Source: News Agencies