Singer Lesley Gore dies in New York aged 68

Voice of heartbreak had hit in 1960s with ‘It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to’

Lesley Gore performs at the She’s got the power! event outside Lincoln Center in New York in July 2011. Photograph: Michael Nagle/The New York Times

Lesley Gore performs at the She’s got the power! event outside Lincoln Center in New York in July 2011. Photograph: Michael Nagle/The New York Times

 

Lesley Gore, who was a teenager in the 1960s when she recorded hit songs about heartbreak and resilience that went on to become feminist touchstones, died on Monday in New York. She was 68.

Lois Sasson, her partner of 33 years, said Gore died of lung cancer at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. With songs such as It’s my party (and I’ll cry if I want to), Judy’s turn to cry and the indelibly defiant 1964 single You don’t own me - all recorded before she was 18 - Gore made herself the voice of teenage girls aggrieved by fickle boyfriends, moving quickly from tearful self-pity to fierce self-assertion.

You don’t own me, written by John Madara and David White, originally reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100. It has been repeatedly rerecorded and revived by performers including Dusty Springfield, Joan Jett and the cast of the 1996 movie The first wives club.

“When I heard it for the first time, I thought it had an important humanist quality,” Gore told The Minneapolis Star-Tribune in 2010.

“As I got older, feminism became more a part of my life and more a part of our whole awareness, and I could see why people would use it as a feminist anthem. I don’t care what age you are - whether you’re 16 or 116 - there’s nothing more wonderful than standing on the stage and shaking your finger and singing, Don’t tell me what to do.

Gore was born Lesley Sue Goldstein on May 2nd, 1946, in Brooklyn. She grew up in Tenafly, New Jersey, eager to become a singer. She had just turned 16, a junior in high school, when her vocal coach had her make some piano-and-voice recordings.

Those demos, with a youthful brightness in her voice, reached the producer Quincy Jones, who was then an A&R man at Mercury Records. He became her producer and mentor.

Gore recorded It’s my party on March 30th, 1963, and when Jones discovered that Phil Spector and the Crystals were also recording the song, he rush-released it within a week.

It reached number one and was followed onto the charts by Judy’s turn to cry - a sequel to It’s my party that gets the boyfriend back - and other tales of teen romance such as She’s a fool,That’s the way boys are and Maybe I know, as well as You don’t own me.

Gore was featured - with James Brown, the Rolling Stones, the Supremes and Marvin Gaye - in the 1964 concerts at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium that were documented as the TAMI Show.

She also had moderate hits with some of the first Marvin Hamlisch songs to be recorded: Sunshine, lollipops and rainbows in 1965 and California nights in 1967.

Yet at the peak of her pop career Gore was in school full time, majoring in English and American literature at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, where she graduated in 1968. She played an occasional television show or concert on weekends or during vacations.

“It would be very foolish of me to leave school to go into such an unpredictable field on a full-time basis,” she told an interviewer at the time.

Gore’s string of hits ended when girl-group pop gave way to psychedelia. But she kept performing - in movies, on television, on theatre and club stages. She appeared in the 1960s Batman television series as the Pink Pussycat, one of Catwoman’s sidekicks.

Gore did not write her early hits. But after she was dropped by Mercury, she worked on becoming a songwriter. She moved to California in 1970, and her 1972 album, Someplace else now, was full of songs she wrote herself or with the lyricist Ellen Weston.

She reconnected with Jones for the 1975 album “Love Me by Name,” also filled with her own songs and drawing on guest performers including Herbie Hancock. But it, too, was largely ignored, as was “The Canvas Can Do Miracles,” an album of versions of 1970s pop hits released in 1982.

Out here on my own, a song Gore wrote with her brother, Michael Gore, for the soundtrack of the movie Fame, became a hit for Irene Cara in 1980 and was nominated for an Academy Award. Gore lived in New York City.

Besides Sasson, she is survived by her brother and her mother, Ronny Gore. Gore returned to New York City in 1980 and continued to sing her oldies on the nostalgia circuit.

She also performed in musical theatre, including a stint in the Broadway production of Smokey Joe’s cafe.

She worked in television, hosting episodes of In the life, a PBS series about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, and came out in 2005 as gay.

Her 2005 album Ever since, was full of reflective grown-up songs in cabaret style, along with a bitterly moody remake of You don’t own me.

Television shows picked up some of its tracks: Better angels was heard on CSI, and Words we don’t say was played on The L word.

Gore was a headliner in 2011 at She’s got the power, a Lincoln Center Out of Doors concert devoted to the girl-group era.

In 2012, You don’t own me returned during the presidential election, as a feminist get-out-the-vote video. As it begins, Gore appears, announcing, “I’m Lesley Gore, and I approve this message.”

In recent years, Gore had been working on a memoir and a Broadway show based on her life.

New York Times