Lesley Gore: A strong woman of her time
During the freewheelin’ 1960s, singer Lesley Gore never had to pretend she was straight despite the homophobic music industry.
She also taught a generation of young girls to be strong on their own– even as she left her legacy in the world of pop music.
Lesley Gore: Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows
Born as Lesley Sue Goldstein on 2 May 1946 in Brooklyn, New York City, Lesley was raised in Tenafly, New Jersey and went to the Dwight School for Girls in in Englewood.
At 16 years old, Lesley recorded demos with her vocal coach, who then sent this to Quincy Jones, an A&R man at Mercury Records.
This led to their teaming up and recording at a studio together. By June 1963, the song “It’s My Party” was climbing up the Billboard Hot 100.
Ironically, Lesley wasn’t that impressed when she first heard of the song. Back when she first heard it, she said: “That’s not half bad. I like it. Good melody. Let’s put it on the maybe pile”
Lesley’s partnership with Quincy led to more Top 10 songs together, like “Judy’s Turn to Cry,” “She’s a Fool,” and the now-regarded feminist anthem, “You Don’t Own Me.”
She also had other Top 10 songs like “Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows” and “California Nights,” which cemented her place in the American psyche with her catchy songs.
Lesley Gore: You Don’t Own Me
While she kept singing, Lesley went on to attend college at Sarah Lawrence College where she studied British and American English literature.
She also appeared at the T.A.M.I Show, a 1964 film from an ensemble concert that had the biggest stars of the time like Marvin Gaye and the Rolling Stones.
Likewise, she appeared on two episodes of the Batman TV series in 1967 as Pussycat, one of Catwoman’s henchwoman.
Unbeknownst to her, the song “You Don’t Own Me” went on with a life of its own with the second wave feminist movement.
She would later say in 2010 that: “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.'”
After she graduated in 1968 from college, she stayed out of the spotlight during the 1970s but popped back up in 1980 when she was nominated for Best Original Song Academy Award.
The song, “Out Here On My Own.” had been co-written by Lesley and her brother, Michael for the Fame movie soundtrack.
However, Michael beat her by winning the Oscar for his own song, “Fame.”
Lesley Gore: My Secret Love
While playing in concerts and appearing on TV in the ’80s and 90s, she co-wrote the song “My Secret Love” for the movie Grace of My Heart (1996)
This movie had a subplot about a closeted lesbian singer, which was based on her.
She was also a host on a few episodes of PBS’ LGBT news magazine series In the Life in 2004.
In 2005, she finally came out in an interview with After Ellen. At that time, she was already living with her long-term partner, Lois Sasson, for 23 years.
Lesley said that she had known since was 20 years old that she was a lesbian, but she didn’t need to force herself to be straight in the music industry.
When asked why she only came out then, she said: “I just never found it was necessary because I really never kept my life private. Those who knew me, those who worked with me were well aware.”
After releasing her last album in 2005, she died on 16 February 2015 while working on her memoirs. The cause of death was due to lung cancer.
For a trip down memory lane, check out Lesley’s phenomenal song, “You Don’t Own Me,” below: