Girl groups came to the forefront of popular music in the early 60s, and none more so than The Ronettes, a trio of New York Puerto Ricans led by Veronica (Ronnie) Bennett, who had been performing at the Peppermint Lounge in New York (where The Twist craze started) and working as backing singers.
The trio – sisters Estelle and Veronica Bennett and their cousin Nedra Talley – actually began as a dance act called The Dolly Sisters before recording as Ronnie & The Relatives, and eventually The Ronettes.
It was in this capacity that Phil Spector first hired them, but sensing their potential he signed them up, ensuring that their debut Be My Baby would be one of his best creations (a point to remember for your next pub quiz: Leon Russell was among the session players on Be My Baby).
The soaring power of the single was enough to make Brian Wilson, tuning in on his car radio, pull over in astonishment. His life was never the same again.
For a short time in the mid-60s, The Ronettes amounted to Girls Aloud crossed with the Kings of Leon multiplied by extra mascara. The trio exuded a dangerous sexuality, wrapping Spanish Harlem street-chic in big beehives, kohl and high split dresses.
Their adept singing made Baby I Love You, The Best Part of Breaking Up and Walking In The Rain among the finest records ever recorded by a female group.
When they toured the UK in 1964, they were supported by The Rolling Stones.
During this time, Spector (who married Ronnie in 1965) was perfecting his ‘wall of sound’ – simultaneously recording the voices, four guitarists, three pianos, two basses, a drummer, three other percussionists and four horn players.
But there was trouble afoot, and by 1966 – despite supporting The Beatles on US tour dates – The Ronettes were finished.
Their final single of the sixties, You Came, You Saw, You Conquered (1969), was in fact performed by Bennett and session singers.
A&M Records had signed the act with the prospect of delivering an album but this was the only track they completed and when the record failed to hit, the entire project was cancelled.
When Ronnie (pictured) left Phil Spector and re-formed the group in the early 70s, her big sister Estelle – the pretty one who was said to have “dated” Mick Jagger and George Harrison when they toured together – was not invited to join.
The rest of Estelle’s life was then spent on lawsuits to recover royalties, eating disorders, homelessness and mental illness.
She refused to perform with The Ronettes when they were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in 2007 but did attend to make her own individual thank you speech.
In February 2009, after her family had been unable to contact her for a number of days, Estelle Bennett was found in her apartment dead from colon cancer. She was 67.
Veronica ‘Ronnie’ Bennett