May 2, 1946, is the birthdate of Lesley Gore, the girl singer who in 1963, while still a junior in high school, recorded a song that became the number-one single in the country: “It’s My Party (and I’ll Cry If I Want To).” It was just the beginning of a string of hits.
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Lesley Sue Goldstein was born in Brooklyn, New York, and grew up in Tenafly, New Jersey. Her father, Leo Goldstein, owned Peter Pan, a manufacturer of women’s swimwear and underwear. Later he went into the business of acting as a licensing agent for name designers. Her mother was Ronny Goldstein. Several years after Lesley’s birth, the family changed its name to “Gore.”
Lesley grew up singing, and by age 14 was performing with a group at weddings and bar mitzvah parties. The following year she began taking proper voice lessons. Her teacher soon had her record some demos, one of which made its way into the hands of Quincy Jones, then a young producer at the Mercury records label. Jones visited with her and her parents at their home, and together they chose “It’s My Party,” in which a teenage girl watches as her boyfriend Johnny leaves the birthday party that she herself is hosting – holding hands with her friend Judy.
An emergency release
The song was recorded on March 30, 1963. Later that evening, Quincy Jones ran into producer Phil Spector as both men arrived at a Charles Aznavour concert at Carnegie Hall. Spector mentioned that he was about to produce a recording of the same song with his girl group the Crystals, who were already stars.
Jones left without hearing Aznavour, returning to the studio to spend the night mixing Leslie’s recording, which he arranged to have released the following Friday.
Within a week, the song was אhe country’s number-one single, eventually selling 1 million copies. (Any version the Crystals may have made was never released.)
Gore soon followed that up with such hits as “Judy’s Turn to Cry,” in which the narrator of “It’s My Party” gets her boyfriend Johnny back, and Judy her comeuppance. And in 1964, still working with Jones, Gore released “You Don’t Own Me,” an early anthem of female liberation.
After graduating from the private Dwight School for Girls, Gore continued on to Sarah Lawrence College, in Bronxville, New York, where she studied literature. She kept performing, but only on weekends and in the summer. In 1967, she appeared in two episodes of the popular TV show “Batman,” playing a character called Pussycat, who was a sidekick to the villainous Catwoman (played by Julie Newmar), and even got to sing.
Not secretly, but quietly, gay
Gore later revealed that it was while at Sarah Lawrence, then an all-women’s school, that she realized she was gay, and began having relationships with other women. She never kept her sexual identity a secret, but only spoke about it publicly for the first time in 2005, after she had served as guest host for “In the Life,” a public-television newsmagazine about LGBT issues. By then she had been in a relationship for more than two decades with Lois Sasson, a jewelry designer.
After college, Gore continued singing and performing, sometimes in musical theater, sometimes in nightclub acts. But as the short pop hits of the 1960s were replaced on the charts by psychedelic masterworks of the ‘70s, she never repeated the commercial successes of her teenage years, and was dropped by her label, Mercury.
Over the years, she was also involved in political activity, including campaigning for Bella Abzug, a longtime U.S. congresswoman from New York City, who became a friend and mentor. In 2012, “You Don’t Own Me” served as the soundtrack of a public-service announcement, in which Gore herself appeared briefly, meant to encourage women to stand up for themselves – and vote.
In 1980, together with her brother, Michael Gore, Leslie wrote songs for the soundtrack of the film “Fame,” one of which, “Out Here on My Own,” was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song. (Michael Gore’s title song was also nominated and won the Oscar.)
Leslie Gore died of lung cancer on February 16, 2015. She was 68.