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Ronnie Spector, lead singer of The Ronettes, has died at age 78

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Ronnie Spector, lead singer of the 1960s group The Ronettes, has died at 78. A statement from her family on her website indicates she died after a bout with cancer. Her song, "Be My Baby" and others with a framework for her strong and beautiful voice - a voice that changed the notion of so-called girl groups by adding a bit of grit to the notion of the delicate female of the early 1960s. Her early work, her entire career influenced bands ranging from The Beatles to the Ramones. NPR Music's Ann Powers is the producer of the Turning The Tables series, which looks at the influence of women like Ronnie Spector on popular music.

Hey there, Ann.

ANN POWERS, BYLINE: Hello. What a sad moment it is today.

KELLY: Yeah, it is. I feel like I need to establish the soundtrack for this interview. I just mentioned that song, "Be My Baby." Let's hear it for a moment as you and I speak.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE RONETTES SONG, "BE MY BABY")

KELLY: I mean, pause. Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BE MY BABY")

THE RONETTES: (Singing) I knew I needed you so. And if I had the chance...

KELLY: We all know it. Just speak to what made this such a landmark song in pop music.

POWERS: I mean, many people talk about the wall of sound that Phil Spector created - the production of this record. But you know what, Mary Louise? You cannot build a house without a foundation. You cannot build a house without the materials that are the best. And Ronnie Spector's voice in this song, it defines rock and roll because it defines yearning, youthfulness, ambition, possibility, tenderness and toughness all at once. And I think that's why this song is so classic.

KELLY: Yeah. Well, and we've mentioned already the influence that she had that went far beyond that song and how it went into pop starting in the 1960s and beyond. Give us some examples.

POWERS: Well, The Ronettes, you know, broke through with songs like "Be My Baby" in the very early '60s, and their biggest fans were some guys from England - The Beatles, The Rolling Stones.

(LAUGHTER)

POWERS: And not only were these...

KELLY: The boy bands - yep.

POWERS: Yeah. There's a few boy bands, you know? And not only were they fans of Ronnie. They were friends and proteges in a way. Everything about her performance, her style and her vocal technique influenced the British Invasion so much. And then again in the 1970s with groups like the New York Dolls and the Ramones - Joey Ramone's whole thing is all about wishing he could be Ronnie Spector. Her influence also - you can hear it in Chrissie Hynde's voice. And today, I think an artist like Mitski - it's that willingness to go all out in a vocal while still, you know, being self-possessed.

KELLY: And then she was also known just for her personal style. How would you describe it?

POWERS: Well, you know, the eyeliner for one thing, right? (Laughter). I mean, the look of The Ronettes and of Ronnie - a leather jacket, her hair piled high, looking tough, looking beautiful, but also self-invention. The Ronettes were teenagers who imagined their own image, you know? And I think that's been such a huge influence on rock and roll, too. Ronnie Spector was all about being the person you dreamed you could be. You hear that in her voice, and you see that in her style.

KELLY: Well, Ann Powers of NPR Music, I could ask you more, but I think maybe we just want to listen and bop along for a few seconds.

Thanks for coming.

POWERS: Oh, let's hear some more. We love you, Ronnie.

KELLY: Yeah. Remembering Ronnie Spector of The Ronettes who has died at 78.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU CAN'T PUT YOUR ARMS AROUND A MEMORY")

RONNIE SPECTOR: (Singing) It doesn't pay to try. All the smart girls know why. It doesn't mean I didn't try. I just never know why. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.