Monday, February 16, 2015
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 Manhattan. She was 68.
Lois Sasson, her partner of 33 years, said Ms. Gore died of lung cancer at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital.
With songs like “It’s My Party,” “Judy’s Turn to Cry” and the indelibly defiant 1964 single “You Don’t Own Me” — all recorded before she was 18 — Ms. 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 No. 2 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,” Ms. 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.’ ”
Ms. Gore was born Lesley Sue Goldstein on May 2, 1946, in Brooklyn. She grew up in Tenafly, N.J., 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.
Ms. Gore recorded “It’s My Party” on March 30, 1963, and when Mr. Jones discovered that Phil Spector and the Crystals were also recording the song, he rush-released it within a week. It reached No. 1 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 like “She’s a Fool,” “That’s the Way Boys Are” and “Maybe I Know,” as well as “You Don’t Own Me.”
Ms. 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 “T.A.M.I. 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 Ms. Gore was in school full time, majoring in English and American literature at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y., 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.
Ms. Gore’s string of hits ended when girl-group pop gave way to psychedelia. But she kept performing — in movies, on television, on theater and club stages. She appeared in the 1960s “Batman” television series as the Pink Pussycat, one of Catwoman’s sidekicks.
Ms. 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 Mr. 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 Ms. 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.
Ms. Gore lived in New York City. Besides Ms. Sasson, she is survived by her brother and her mother, Ronny Gore.
Ms. Gore returned to New York City in 1980 and continued to sing her oldies on the nostalgia circuit. She also performed in musical theater, including a stint in the Broadway production of “Smokey Joe’s Cafe.” She worked in television, hosting episodes of “In the Life,” a PBS newsmagazine series about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. In 2005, she came out publicly 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 “C.S.I.,” and “Words We Don’t Say” was played on “The L Word.”
Ms. 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, Ms. Gore appears, announcing, “I’m Lesley Gore, and I approve this message.”
In recent years, Ms. Gore had been working on a memoir and a Broadway show based on her life.
Posted by Michael Godin at 7:04 PM