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Ronettes singer Estelle Bennett dies at 67

February 14, 2009|Associated Press

Estelle Bennett, one of the Ronettes, the singing trio whose 1963 hit "Be My Baby" epitomized the famed "wall of sound" technique of its producer, Phil Spector, has died at her home in Englewood, N.J. She was 67.

Bennett's brother-in-law, Jonathan Greenfield, said police found her dead in her apartment Wednesday after relatives had been unable to contact her. The time and cause of death have not yet been determined. Greenfield is the manager and husband of Bennett's sister, Ronettes lead singer Ronnie Spector.

In 2007, the Ronettes were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which hails the group as "the premier act of the girl group era."

The Ronettes -- sisters Veronica "Ronnie" and Estelle Bennett and their cousin Nedra Talley -- signed with Spector's Philles Records in 1963.

Their recording of "Be My Baby" hit No. 2 on Billboard magazine's pop music chart that year. Among their other hits were "Walkin' in the Rain" and "Baby, I Love You."

The songs feature Spector's elaborate arrangements that blend many instruments into a smooth, pulsating "wall." But the trio's string of hits had trailed off by the time they split about 1967. Ronnie Bennett married Spector in 1968, but they divorced six years later.

After the group's breakup, Estelle Bennett rarely made public appearances. For nearly 15 years, the women waged a lengthy, and ultimately unsuccessful, court battle with Spector over royalties. He recently has been battling criminal charges in the shooting death of actress Lana Clarkson.

Bennett was born in 1941, according to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and grew up in the Washington Heights area of New York City.

According to the book "He's a Rebel," a biography of Phil Spector by Mark Ribowsky, the Ronettes first began performing as the Darling Sisters and later worked as dancers at New York's Peppermint Lounge, the epicenter of the early 1960s dance craze, the Twist.

In addition to her sister, Bennett is survived by a daughter, Toyin Hunter of Santa Monica; and three grandsons.


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