The Ronettes were an American 1960s girl group from New York City. One of the most popular groups from that period, they placed more than eight songs on the Billboard Hot 100, five of which became top forty hits.
The trio from Spanish Harlem, New York consisted of lead singer Veronica Bennett (later known as Ronnie Spector), her older sister Estelle Bennett, and their cousin Nedra Talley. The girls had sung together since they were teenagers, when they were known as “The Darling Sisters.” Signed first by Colpix Records in 1961, they moved to Phil Spector’s Philles Records in March 1963, and changed their name to “the Ronettes.”
Some of the Ronettes’ most famous songs include, “Be My Baby”, “Baby, I Love You”, “(The Best Part Of) Breakin’ Up”, and “Walking in the Rain,” all of which charted on the Billboard Hot 100. “Walking in the Rain” won a Grammy Award in 1965, and “Be My Baby” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.
In the late 1964, the group released their only studio album, Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica, which entered the Billboard charts at #96. Rolling Stone ranked it number 422 on its list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. In 2007, the Ronettes were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2004. The Ronettes were the only girl group that toured with the Beatles.
The Ronettes’ influence on music was significant. In addition to Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen have both cited Ronnie Bennett as an influence. Recently, their fashion style was emulated popularly by British musician Amy Winehouse.
The Ronettes won a Grammy Award in 1965 for “Walking In The Rain.” The Ronettes were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame for “Be My Baby” in 1999. The Ronettes were also inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2004, and the People’s Hall of Rock and Roll Legends in 2010.
It was reported that Phil Spector, in his capacity as a member of the Board of Governors, resisted the Ronettes (and Darlene Love) being nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, although they had been eligible for a considerable time. The alleged reasons included the acrimonious divorce of Ronnie and Spector, in addition to the group’s having unsuccessfully sued Spector for back royalties. Spector claimed that, apart from Ronnie, the other group members did not appear on their records, and that they did not make the contribution required for induction. While Spector was awaiting trial on a murder charge and out on $1 million bail, the Ronettes were finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 12, 2007, at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. Keith Richards, a longtime fan, inducted the trio. Ronnie Bennett (Spector) and Nedra Talley performed “Baby I Love You”,”Walking in the Rain”, and “Be My Baby”. Estelle Bennett was present to accept her award, but was not well enough to perform, so Tricia Scotti (a regular backup singer with Ronnie) took her place behind the microphone.
The Ronettes began as a family act where the girls grew up in Washington Heights, Manhattan. According to Nedra Talley, the girls started singing during their childhood visits to their grandmother’s home. “Estelle and Veronica are sisters,” she said in a later interview. “I’m their cousin. Our mothers are sisters. We came out of a family that, on Saturday nights, home for us was at our grandmother’s, entertaining each other.”
The Bennetts’ mother was African-American and Cherokee; their father was Irish-American. Their cousin, Nedra Talley, is African-American and Puerto Rican.
“By the time I was eight, I was already working up whole numbers for our family’s little weekend shows,” Ronnie Spector later recalled. “Then Estelle would get up onstage and do a song, or she’d join Nedra or my cousin Elaine and me in a number we’d worked out in three-part harmony.”
Furthering their interest in show business, Estelle was enrolled at Startime, a popular dancing school in the 1950s, while Ronnie became fascinated with Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers.
In 1957, Ronnie formed the group which would later become known as the Ronettes. Composed of Ronnie, her sister Estelle, and their cousins Nedra, Diane, and Elaine, the five girls learned how to perfect their harmonies first at their grandmother’s house, and they became proficient in songs such as “Goodnight Sweetheart” and “Red Red Robin”. Emulating Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, the girls added their male cousin Ira to the group, and were signed up for a Wednesday-night amateur show at the Apollo Theatre by a friend of Ronnie and Estelle’s mother. The show started out as a disaster; when the house band started playing Frankie Lymon’s “Why Do Fools Fall in Love,” Ira didn’t sing a word, so Ronnie took over. “I strutted out across the stage, singing as loud as I could,” Ronnie later recalled. “When I finally heard a few hands of scattered applause, I sang even louder. That brought a little more applause, which was all I needed.”