Lesley Gore (1946-2015)

Lesley GoreSinger-songwriter Lesley Gore, known for her 1960s pop hits such as “It’s My Party,” passed away from lung cancer on February 16th in Manhattan. From her proto-feminist teen anthems to her work on the award-winning soundtrack of Fame, Gore left a remarkable and immutable influence on American pop music.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Gore was discovered at age 16 by legendary music producer Quincy Jones and signed to Mercury Records in 1963. Her debut album I’ll Cry If I Want To was released that year, and its titular hit single reached the number one position on the pop charts. “I’ll Cry If I Want To”– which concerns a young woman spurned by her boyfriend at her own birthday party– and her follow-up hits “Judy’s Turn to Cry” and “That’s the Way Boys Are,” established Gore as the queen of girl pop in the era before the 1960s counterculture movement—beyond the sugary beats and seemingly innocuous lyrics was a defiant voice insistent on staking a claim.

Her equally successful second album, Lesley Gore Sings of Mixed-Up Hearts, was released in the same year, and the spotlight track “You Don’t Own Me” cemented Gore as a unique, feminist voice in the pop music landscape. The song’s bold, unapologetic lyrics, delivered with Gore’s brassy attitude, represented a women’s liberation message that was ahead of its time. “You Don’t Own Me” has been covered by Dusty Springfield, Joan Jett, and Bette Midler, among others, and was the precursor to self-assertive hits such as Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” or Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.”

During the peak of her career, Gore was a student at Sarah Lawrence College, having chosen to continue her education instead of dedicating herself full-time to her musical career. She faded from the charts as the 1970s psychedelic movement began to take hold, but continued to write and release music throughout the decade. Collaborating with her brother Michael Gore, she composed songs for the soundtrack of the 1980 film Fame and earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song with the song “Out Here on My Own.”

In 2005, Gore began hosting episodes of the PBS documentary series In the Life, which focused on gay and lesbian issues. She came out to the public on the program and acknowledged her partner of decades, Lois Sasson. Gore remained a prominent figure of the LGBT community, in addition to speaking out in favor of women’s rights. During the 2012 U.S. presidential campaign, Gore joined forces with writer and actress Lena Dunham to turn “You Don’t Own Me” into a public service announcement advocating for women’s reproductive rights.

An incontestable trailblazer, Gore left a distinct imprint on the pop music landscape. Included below are some of Gore’s greatest hits, which will undoubtedly continue to resonate for generations to come.

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