'Be My Baby' singer and 1960s icon Ronnie Spector of The Ronettes dies at 78

Credit: AP

Ronnie Spector, who sang 1960s hits including “Be My Baby”, “Baby I Love You” and “Walking in the Rain” as the leader of the girl group The Ronettes, has died aged 78. The 1960s icon died on 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.

The Ronettes’ glamorous look and powerful voices - plus songwriting and producing help from Phil Spector - turned them into one of the premier acts of the girl-group era, touring England with The Rolling Stones and befriending the Beatles.

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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".

“We weren’t afraid to be hot. That was our gimmick,” Spector said in her memoir.

“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.”

Tributes to the star flooded social media, with Stevie Van Zandt saying it was an honour to produce her.

“Our dear friend Ronnie Spector, has passed. She was the sweetest person you could ever know. And her mark on rock and roll is indelible," Joan Jett said, via Twitter.

Zendaya paid tribute to Spector as a “true rockstar”.

In a post on Instagram, the Spider-Man star write: “This news just breaks my heart.

“There’s not a time I saw her without her iconic red lips and full teased hair, a true rockstar through and through.

“Ronnie, being able to know you has been one of the greatest honors of my life.

“Thank you for sharing your life with me, I could listen to your stories for hours and hours.”

While Brian Wilson wrote on Twitter: “I loved her voice so much and she was a very special person and a dear friend.”

The Ronettes: (from left to right) Estelle Bennet, Ronnie Bennett and Nedra Talley Credit: AP

Ronnie Spector’s influence was felt far and wide.

Wilson became obsessed with “Be My Baby” and Billy Joel wrote “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” in Spector’s honour. Amy Winehouse frequently cited Spector as an idol.

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.”

'We didn’t have a hit record to grab their attention, so we had to make an impression with our style.'

Spector, born Veronica Bennett, was born to an African American Cherokee mother and Irish American father, growing up in the Washington Heights area of Manhattan.

Along with her sister and cousin, they began singing and dancing in clubs as Ronnie and the Relatives, becoming noteworthy for their liberal use of eyeliner and mascara. “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.”

After touring Germany in 1967, the Ronettes broke up.

In 2006, Spector 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.