The voice of The Ronettes, Ronnie Spector, has died.
The singer’s representative, Seth Cohen, confirmed Spector died Wednesday after a brief battle with cancer. She was 78.
Spector’s family said in a statement to USA TODAY that she “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. Her joyful sound, playful nature and magical presence will live on in all who knew, heard or saw her.”
Spector was surrounded by family and “in the arms of her husband” Jonathan when she died in Connecticut.
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Born Veronica Bennett, Spector formed The Ronettes in 1957 with her older sister, Estelle, and their cousin, Nedra Talley. She married mercurial record producer Phil Spector in 1968 – they divorcedin 1974 – who produced the majority of the group’s chart-toppers.
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.
The Ronettes’ sexy look and powerful voices turned them into one of the premier acts of the girl-group era, touring England with the Rolling Stones and befriending The Beatles.
“We weren’t afraid to be hot. That was our gimmick,” Spector said in her 1990 memoir, “Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts And Madness.” “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.”
The group, who grew up in the Washington Heights area of Manhattan, began singing and dancing in clubs as Ronnie and the Relatives and became 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.
Spector’s potent voice soared on a parade of hits in the early- to mid-‘60s, including “Be My Baby,” “Baby, I Love You” and “Walking in the Rain.” A lengthy solo career followed, starting with the single “So Young” in 1964.
The singer was introduced to a new generation when she was featured on Eddie Money’s “Take Me Home Tonight” in 1986, which received prominent play on MTV. Brian Wilson became obsessed with “Be My Baby” and Billy Joel wrote “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” in Spector’s honor.
Martin Scorsese used “Be My Baby” to open his 1973 film “Mean Streets,” and the song appears in the title sequence of “Dirty Dancing” and the closing credits of “Baby Mama.” It also appeared on TV in “Moonlighting” and “The Wonder Years.”
Spector more recently appeared in the Amy Winehouse documentary, “Amy Winehouse: Back to Black,” in 2018; Winehouse had previously spoken of the influence The Ronettes had on her music.
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 2007, Spector was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of The Ronettes. At the time, 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.”
In 2010, Spector 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.
Spector’s family requested that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to local women’s shelters or to the American Indian College Fund.
She is survived her husband, Jonathan Greenfield, and two sons, Jason and Austin.
A celebration of Spector’s life will be announced in the future.
Contributing: Mark Kennedy, The Associated Press