Ronnie Spector: life of the Ronettes singer, songs including Be My Baby - and when is Zendaya biopic out?

In 2020, it was announced that Zendaya would play Ronnie Spector in the biopic of her life, which would also cover her marriage and divorce from Phil Spector

Ronnie Spector performing onstage during the 2017 NAMM Show (Photo: Jesse Grant/Getty Images for NAMM)

Ronnie Spector, best known as one of the singers of the Ronettes, has passed away at the age of 78, following a “brief battle with cancer” according to her family.

Music greats like Joan Jett, Gene Simmons and Brian Wilson have posted their tributes for the singer online, describing her as a “special person” and “so freaking cool”.

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In 2020, it was announced that Spector was acting as an executive producer for an A24 biopic about her life, starring Spider-Man: No Way Home actress Zendaya.

Who was Ronnie Spector?

Spector, born Veronica Yvette Bennett, was known as Robbie Spector, an American singer who formed the iconic girl group the Ronettes in the 1950s with her older sister Estelle Bennett, and their cousin Nedra Talley.

Spector was born on 10 August 1943 in Manhattan and growing up, she and her sister were encouraged to sing by their family, alongside their cousin.

The Ronettes originally formed under the name of the Darling Sisters before they later changed the name.

The group released their first record in 1961 whilst signed to Colpix Records before eventually signing to record producer Phil Spector’s label Philles Records in 1963.

American pop trio The Ronettes, comprising Ronnie Spector, Nedra Talley and Estelle Bennett (Photo: Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Whilst working with Phil Spector, the Ronettes found success with songs including Be My Baby.

In 1966, the Beatles picked the Ronettes to join them on their US tour and, during the group’s career, they also played with other major rock bands, including the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds.

After the Ronettes split in 1967, Spector carved out a path of her own with a solo career. Her 1986 duet with Eddie Money on the song Take Me Home Tonight reached No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100, and was also nominated for a Grammy Award.

In 1990, her memoir Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts, and Madness, Or, My Life as a Fabulous Ronette, co-written with Vince Waldron, was published and quickly became a bestseller.

In 2004, Spector was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, and in 2006, Be My Baby was added to the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress, preserved as a work of historical and cultural significance.

What were the Ronettes songs?

Some of the biggest hits from the Ronettes include:

  • Be My Baby
  • Baby I Love You
  • Walking in the Rain
  • Do I Love You?
  • I can Hear Music
  • Is This What I Get For Loving You?
  • You Came, You Saw, You Conquered
  • (The Best Part Of) Breakin’ Up
  • I’m Gonna Quit While I’m Ahead
  • Born to Be Together
  • I Want a Boy
  • So Young
  • When I Saw You
  • Keep On Dancing

When was she married to Phil Spector?

Spector married Phil Spector on 14 April 1968, and the two adopted three children together during their marriage - in 1969, they adopted their son Donte Phillip and then two years later adopted twins Louis and Gary.

In her memoir, Spector revealed that Phil was violent and abusive, subjecting her to six years of torment whilst they were married. She wrote of how her husband kept her prisoner and threatened to kill her.

In 1972, Spector fled their mansion, writing: “I knew if I didn’t leave I was going to die there.”

The two divorced in 1974 and, over the course of a lengthy court battle, Spector successfully sued her ex-husband for over $1 million in royalties.

In 2003, the music producer was accused of killing actress Lana Clarkson, who was known for starring in films like Barbarian Queen. She died of a gunshot fired into her mouth whilst in Phil’s mansion.

After a trial in 2009, he was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to 19 years to life.

Music producer Phil Spector standing for a break during his murder trial on August 15, 2007 (Photo: Robyn Beck-Pool/Getty Images)

In a magazine interview, he had claimed she had “kissed the gun” before pulling the trigger herself, however the jury unanimously agreed he had murdered the actress.

Phil died of natural causes in January 2021 while serving his prison sentence.

A California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation statement said at the time: “California Health Care Facility inmate Phillip Spector was pronounced deceased of natural causes at 6.35pm on Saturday, January 16, 2021, at an outside hospital.”

Writing on Instagram after his death, Spector said he was “a brilliant producer, but a lousy husband”.

She added: “Unfortunately Phil was not able to live and function outside of the recording studio. Darkness set in, many lives were damaged.”

When did Ronnie Spector die?

Spector passed away at the age of 78 on Wednesday 11 January, following a “brief battle with cancer”.

In a statement released after her death, Spector’s family said: “Our beloved angel, Ronnie, peacefully left this world today after a brief battle with cancer. She was with family and in the arms of her husband, Jonathan.

“Ronnie lived her life with a twinkle in her eye, a spunky attitude, a wicked sense of humour and a smile on her face. She was filled with love and gratitude.

Ronnie Spector performing onstage during the 2017 NAMM Show (Photo: Jesse Grant/Getty Images for NAMM)

“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.

“A celebration of Ronnie’s life and music will be announced in the future.

“The family respectfully asks for privacy at this time.”

Spector is survived by her husband Jonathan Greenfield and their two sons, Jason and Austin.

When does the Zendaya Ronnie Spector biopic come out?

Towards the end of 2020, it was confirmed that Zendaya (Euphoria, Dune) would portray Spector in a new A24 film, after deals were closed for Spector’s life rights and for the memoir she wrote with Vince Waldron called Be My Baby.

Spector was an executive producer on the project, and had chosen Zendaya as the actress she wanted to play her younger self.

Zendaya at the Los Angeles premiere of Spider-Man: No Way Home (Photo: Emma McIntyre/Getty Images)

According to Deadline, Jackie Sibblies Drury has been in talks to write the script. Drury is an award winning American playwright who scooped the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2019 for her play Fairview.

Her other awards include the Windham-Campbell Literature Prize for Drama in 2015, the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize in 2019 and the Steinberg Playwright Award also in 2019.

It’s believed that the film will tell the story of how the Ronettes were formed, and Spectors marriage to Phil Spector. It will also cover her divorce in 1974, and her battle to win back the rights to her music.

Further details about the project, like when it could be released, are yet to be announced.

Tributes for Ronnie Spector

Brian Wilson, Gene Simmons and Kathy Valentine are among those who have paid tribute to the “iconic” musician.

Beach Boys co-founder Wilson, who reportedly became obsessed with Be My Baby, said he was heartbroken by the news.

“I just heard the news about Ronnie Spector and I don’t know what to say,” he tweeted.

Remembering Spector, Kiss bassist Simmons said: “RIP Ronnie Spector.

“The iconic voice of the Ronettes.”

Go-Go’s bassist Valentine thanked Spector for being “so freaking cool”.

Lord Of The Rings actor Elijah Wood tweeted: “Farewell, legend and music icon Ronnie Spector.

“I imagine Be My Baby will play on repeat across the globe today”.

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