Ronnie Spector, singer with The Ronettes, dies age 78

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Ronnie Spector, one of the most distinct voices in American popular music, passed away Wednesday, January 12, 2022. The singer had endured a brief battle with cancer, The New York Times and other media outlets have reported. No further information has been provided.

Spector’s passing is the latest in a series of celebrity deaths that have shocked fan bases and celebrity colleagues alike. The singer made a unique mark on rock music and her loss is tremendous. There is, however, a body of work, including a memoir Spector pinned, and the songs and fashion sense that have been imitated for decades by other popular singers and members of the public.

Ronnie Spector: charting new paths with The Ronettes

When The Ronettes’ single “Be My Baby” reached No. 2 in 1963, something new was happening in regard to young women and popular music. The idea of dressing female singers alike and having them appear sweet and innocent was tossed aside. Spector recalls in her memoir that when they saw The Shirrelles with their “wide party dresses,” they (The Ronettes) decided to do the opposite.

The Ronettes’ look was beehives mixed with long hair, tight clothes, and heavy eye makeup. The look signaled less innocence, and more street smart sexuality. While the look might not alarm anyone in the 21st century, in 1961, when the group was first signed to a record label, their look made them stand out.

The Ronettes were comprised of Ronnie, her older sister, Estelle, and their cousin, Nedra Talley. The three young women were from New York City. Their look and appeal helped to “sell” the idea of looking tough and sexy at the same time. Beyond their look, and most important, was The Ronettes’ sound. With voices big enough to sing through Phil Spector’s famous “wall of sound” production quality, they brought harmony and energy to their work that earned them the respect of famous musicians.

Spector (Ronnie) would marry producer, Phil Spector in 1968. The tumultuous nature of that union has been written about in Ronnie’s memoir “Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts, and Madness, or My Life as a Fabulous Ronette.” Among The Ronettes’ accomplishments are induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2007, and several hits between 1963 and 1965. The Ronettes broke up in 1967.

However, according to the New York Times, Spector with her powerhouse voice, collaborated with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Jimi Hendrix, George Harrison and others. Unfortunately, little happened to revamp her career until she sang on Eddie Money’s “Take Me Home Tonight.” The single appeared on Money’s 1986 album “Can’t Hold Back.”

For a generation of audiences born after the Civil Rights movement, “Take Me Home Tonight” is where they learned to fall in love with Spector’s voice. Spector does not just sing, but she is referenced by Money in the lyrics, “Just like Ronnie sang…” then Spector fills in with her classic line, “be my little baby.”

Veronica Yvette Bennett was born in New York City in 1943. She was a self-described “girl from the ghetto who wanted to sing.” And when she did, the whole world listened and popular music was changed forever.

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