avatar for Matthew Connolly

Matthew Connolly

Matthew D. Connolly is a PhD candidate in the Department of English at the University at Buffalo. His research examines race, pop music and the professional managerial class in the post-Civil Rights era. His other interests include critical pedagogy, speculative bass-playing, and the cultural work of editors.

"Enduring Love: Ronnie Spector, Management, and the Confinement of Her Voice"
The undercurrent of power in the relation between producer and artist has made recent news in a number of contexts, not least the high-profile court case brought by Lukasz Gottwald (Dr. Luke) against Kesha Sebert (Kesha), which sought to prevent Kesha’s release from a recording contract despite the abuse she suffered at Dr. Luke’s hands. The patriarchal exploitation inherent in this conflict, far from a new development, highlights the dynamics of creative extraction in pop music production. My paper examines this troubling dynamic through the figure of Ronnie Spector, as the voice of early hits for producer and husband, Phil Spector. The relationship between Ronnie and Phil stands at a key moment in the development of popular music as an industry, when hit-making became a regimented and routinized practice. In an interview conducted by Lester Bangs and held in the “Michael Ochs Collection” at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Library, Ronnie, born Veronica Bennett, speaks of her route to stardom from a family of mixed Irish and African American and Cherokee heritage in Spanish Harlem, in which singing was a casual folk practice, to lead singer in The Ronettes. Ronnie describes this later period of her life from a doubled perspective: as prisoner confined to her own home by her husband, and as a self-conscious artist, aware of the qualities of production that Phil Spector brought to recording. I argue that the patriarchal domination evidenced in this relationship should be read as a labor struggle. This struggle demonstrates the development of pop music as a mode of production, one which required constant renewal of artists’ creative work, while also revealing the management practices endemic to the music’s sound itself. Finally, I try to articulate Ronnie’s voice in order to resist her subsumption within the Wall of Sound.