Music

Late, great Ronnie Spector never forget her first, gay fans: ‘They started my whole career’

Lily Wakefield January 13, 2022
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Ronnie Spector of The Ronettes

Ronnie Spector of The Ronettes, August 1974. (Getty/ Michael Putland)

Ronnie Spector, lead singer of The Ronettes, died on Wednesday (12 January) at the age of 78 after a brief battle with cancer.

Spector, born Veronica Bennett, formed The Ronettes with her older sister Estelle Bennett and their cousin Nedra Talley.

The Ronettes were the ultimate 1960s girl group, complete with towering beehives, and even toured with The Rolling Stones.

The release of “Be My Baby” in the summer of 1963 made them global superstars, but before then, Spector said she “didn’t think people would like us because of our look and being biracial”, she told People in 2017.

Spector credited the queer community with launching her career, and said the Ronettes “started working in the Village [in New York] in the gay coffee shops”.

She continued: “When the Ronettes were first starting out, we didn’t have a hit record. We had nothing, but we had a look.

“We had the long hair with the beehive and the skirts with slits up the side, and as we played more and more, the gay people would come in and start dressing like us.

“I’d wear the cat eye eyeliner that goes way out, and they’d come in with cat eyes! [I thought,] “Wow, I’d made it!” It made me decide that I need to stay in this business.”

“The gay community started my whole career,” Spector added. “They said, ‘Ronnie, you can do this! You’re fabulous!'”

After the Ronettes broke up in 1967, Spector married Phil Spector 1968. It was a marriage that was horrifically violent and abusive. Towards the end of their relationship – they divorced in 1974 – he would barely let her leave the house.

Phil Spector was imprisoned in 2009 for the murder of actor Lana Clarkson, and died behind bars in 2021.

After breaking free from her abusive marriage, Spector embarked on a solo career – “Where do you think I started out? I started out at the Continental Baths, a gay club.”

In June, 2021, Spector wrote on Twitter: “Happy Pride Month! Beside my family, the first fans The Ronettes had were gay.

“I guess they liked us cause were outsiders, different. They supported us from the beginning and still do. Love your gay brothers and sisters, and your neighbors.”

Ronnie Spector performs live on stage
Ronnie Spector performs live on stage during the Women of the World Festival at the Southbank Centre in London, 2014. (Redferns via Getty/ Samir Hussein)

Rock and roll greats honoured Ronnie Spector, ‘the sweetest person you could ever know’

Ronnie Spector is survived by her husband Jonathan Greenfield, and her two children Jason and Austin.

In a statement, 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. Her joyful sound, playful nature and magical presence will live on in all who knew, heard or saw her.”

Rock an roll greats also took to social media to pay tribute to Spector.

Brian Wilson, co-founder of the Beach Boys, said: “I just heard the news about Ronnie Spector and I don’t know what to say.

“I loved her voice so much and she was a very special person and a dear friend. This just breaks my heart. Ronnie’s music and spirit will live forever.”

Joan Jett tweeted: “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.”

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