Ronnie Spector, who as lead singer of The Ronettes achieved a string of hits in the 1960s and emerged as one of pop music’s first female stars, has died at the age of 78.

    According to a statement from her family, Spector “peacefully left this world today after a brief battle with cancer.”

    “Ronnie lived her life with a twinkle in her eye, a spunky attitude, a wicked sense of humor and a smile on her face,” the family’s 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. In lieu of flowers, Ronnie requested that donations be made to your local women’s shelter or to the American Indian College Fund.”

    Spector was born in New York in 1943 to a Black and Cherokee mother and an Irish American father. The Ronettes began as a family act between Ronnie (who was born Veronica Bennett), her older sister, Estelle Bennett, and their cousins Nedra, Diane, Elaine, and Ira. However, following a disastrous performance at the Apollo Theater’s amateur night, Diane, Elaine, and Ira left the group. Meanwhile, Veronica, Estelle, and Nedra began taking singing lessons, and honed their performing skills with shows at bar mitzvahs and school dances. The trio eventually met Colpix Records producer Stu Phillips, who recorded and released The Ronettes’ initial singles.

    But when the Colpix singles failed to chart, The Ronettes sought the help of super-producer Phil Spector, who had recently found success writing for The Teddy Bears and The Crystals. During the audition, Spector reportedly leapt from his chair and shouted, “That’s it! That’s the voice I’ve been looking for!”


    He signed the group in 1963, and with the aid of his trademark Wall of Sound production, they recorded one classic album, 1964’s Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica. With Veronica’s clarion soprano leading the way, the group gained worldwide fame following the release of the smash single “Be My Baby,” and they followed it with the Top 40 hit “Baby, I Love You.”