Monday, February 16, 2015

Lesley Gore, 1946-2015

Lesley Gore, who died today at 68, is most remembered for her first hit, "It's My Party (and I'll Cry If I Want To)," which began a successful collaboration with Quincy Jones as her producer.

She was a Brooklyn native, but her family moved to New Jersey, where she attended the private Dwight School for Girls in Englewood. She was a sixteen year old junior at Dwight when Jones signed her to Mercury Records and she recorded "It's My Party," which went to the top of the Billboard pop chart in 1963. Her recording and performing career continued through high school and Sarah Lawrence College, where she studied drama and literature. She later did some acting; the photo above shows her as Catwoman's sidekick Pussycat in the TV series Batman.


My favorite of her early hits (she continued to record, perform, and write music through much of her later life; her last album, Ever Since, reviewed favorably in The New York Times, was released in 2005) is "You Don't Own Me," described as an "empowering, ahead-of-its-time feminist anthem" by Daniel Kreps in Rolling Stone. The video clip above shows her performing it as part of the T.A.M.I. Show in 1964, when she was eighteen.

While "You Don't Own Me" could be seen as an "answer song" to Joanie Sommers' 1962 hit "Johnny Get Angry" ("I want a brave man; I want a caveman"), Gore didn't see it that way, at least not when she recorded it. She thought of it as something a man could have as easily sung to a woman. Like all of Gore's early songs, it wasn't written by her. It was written by two men, John Madera and Dave White.

Gore was in college when she first realized that she was a lesbian. She didn't announce this to the public until 2005, when she was hosting In The Life, a PBS show about LGBT issues. Her death was announced by Lois Sasson, her partner of 33 years.

Addendum: Friend Eliot Wagner has this observation:
While "You Don't Own Me" was not an answer to any particular song, it responded to an entire era. The late 50s and early 60s were full of songs which instructed women on their role viz a viz men in society: not only "Johnny Get Angry", which you mentioned, but also "Love and Marriage", "Wives and Lovers", and probably the most egregious of the lot, "Bobby's Girl". The fact that "You Don't Own Me" was on the air was a grand signal that even if that era was not over, it would, in fact, soon be history.
It also occurred to me that 1963, the year "You Don't Own Me" was released, was also the year that Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique was published.