A day after her 72nd birthday, Ronnie Spector celebrated in the only way she knows how- serenading a sold out crowd with her golden voice. Before an enthusiastic, diverse New York City audience at City Winery last night, Spector exceptionally performed all The Ronettes hits from "Be My Baby" to "Walking in the Rain" with all the sweetness, style and sex appeal that made her a star.
The mixed-race woman born uptown in Spanish Harlem sounded as brilliant as she did 50 something years ago when she first burst on to the music scene with her powerhouse girl group, the fabulous Ronettes. Their turbulent story, along with Ronnie's personal struggles with her incarcerated, maniacal ex-husband, Phil Spector, have been well documented. Besides being a virtual prisoner in her own home, Phil kept Ronnie out of sight and out of the recording studio for years. Even later, after finally freeing herself from him and divorcing, he still threatened her life if she ever stepped foot on stage again.
At 72, Ronnie finally seems to have found peace and happiness, thanks to her remarkable husband and manager Jonathan Greenfield. A tell-all documentary film is in the works. Ronnie hopes her story... her dream, her heartbreak, and her triumph will inspire and entertain. Jonathan says Ronnie has an "indomitable spirit" and "it's a story that must be told."
In a script seemingly only Hollywood could create- against insurmountable odds, Ronnie became "the original bad girl of rock and roll," the singular crush of young males everywhere- white and black, and an inspiration to millions of adoring fans, musicians and women around the world.
Brian Wilson pulled his car over, "mind blown," the first time he heard Ronnie's voice. And then went home and wrote "Don't Worry, Baby" for her. Keith Richards claimed to have "found rock and roll" with her. Mick Jagger met James Brown through her. The romantic John Lennon fancied Ronnie after she introduced The Beatles to American culture and Harlem's finest cuisine. In 1976 Bruce Springsteen told his audience from the stage he always wanted to marry her. Steven Van Zandt stated, he too, was in love with her "like most red-blooded American males." Billy Joel wrote "Say Goodbye to Hollywood" about her. Ronnie later recorded it with the legendary E Street Band. In the 80's Eddie Money paid tribute in "Take Me Home Tonight," having Ronnie sing on the track. And the late starlet Amy Winehouse, who counted Ronnie as a major influence on her career, unfortunately reminded us how tragic talent can be.
In addition to a string of concert dates in the UK later this year, Ronnie's back in the studio recording- a new British invasion covers CD. As if that doesn't sound cool enough, the final concert of the tour is at Colston Hall, the same venue The Rolling Stones opened for the Ronnie led Ronettes in January of 1964. Yes, you read that correctly, the Stones once opened for The Ronettes.
As female empowerment and the struggle for basic human rights continue today in this country and across the globe, the question, "Can one woman's voice change the world?" never seemed as relevant and as hopeful as it does right now. And if that woman's name is 'Ronnie Spector,' then the answer is still a resounding, "Yes!"
Bruce Springsteen's long time manager Jon Landau once penned an infamous concert review claiming to have "seen rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen." Last night, I saw rock and roll's past- and she never sounded so present.
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