Lesley Sue Goldstein, aka Lesley Gore, as she is famous professionally, is a singer, songwriter, actress, and political activist. She cut her first big pop hit, It’s My Party, at the age of 16, which went on to become a number one hit in the United States in 1963. After rising to fame with that infectiously catchy single, Gore went on to put out another ten top-40 songs such as Judy’s Turn To Cry, and You Don’t Own Me.
Later on in her career in the spotlight, Gore worked as an actress and television personality. In 1980, she teamed up with her brother Michael Gore and composed several songs for the 1980 film Fame. That work ended up scoring her an Academy Award nomination.
In the 2000s, Gore hosted several episodes of the PBS LGBT television news magazine In The Life. Many people that grew up listening to Gore’s music probably knew very little about who she was or what she stood for. In this video, we’ll be taking a closer look at the side of Lesley Gore that she kept hidden from her fans. Join us as we celebrate her storied life and career.
Lesley Gore’s Humble Roots
As we already mentioned, Lesley was born Lesley Sue Goldstein in Brooklyn, New York, on May 2, 1946, although her family changed her last name to Gore – her mother’s maiden name – shortly after she was born. She came from a middle-class Jewish family. Her father, Leo Goldstein, was the owner of Peter Pan, a fairly profitable children’s swimwear and underwear manufacturer. He later became one of the leading brand licensing agents in the clothing industry. Lesley’s mother’s name was Ronny, and she was your typical homemaker at the time.
While growing up in Brooklyn, Lesley had aspirations of becoming a singer. She got her chance to explore that path when she was a Junior in high school when her vocal coach recorded a demo tape that featured her vocal work and piano playing.
That tape eventually found its way to Quincy Jones, who is working as a producer at the time for A&R and Mercury Records. Jones pretty much took Lesley under his wing as her mentor, friend, and producer. While Jones is perhaps the best for his work with Michael Jackson years later, it was Lesley that made him into a star.
Hey, not to get too derailed, but if you’re enjoying this video so far, make sure you take a moment to give it a like and subscribe to Facts Verse if you haven’t already. And don’t even think about going anywhere so soon. Keep watching to learn how Lesley Gore very gracefully came out as a member of the LGBT community later on in her life.
Lesley Gore’s Meteoric Rise To Fame
Lesley Gore receives her first number-one single before she allows to smoke a cigarette. She was just 16 when ‘It’s My Party (And I’ll Cry If I Want To)’ hit the number one spot on the Billboard Top-40 charts. The record was certified gold and marked the beginning of a period when Gore’s fan would quite literally show up on her front lawn in hopes of catching a glimpse of her.
After the success of that track, Jones became the first Black vice president of Mercury Records. He and Lesley then put out numerous singles that rose to the top of the charts and moved millions of records. A few of these hit songs included Judy’s Turn To Cry, which charted at number 5, and She’s a Fool, which also peaked at number 5. Audiences loved Gore because she seemed so genuine and empathetic. Listeners felt as if she was directly comforting them when they were dealing with the pain of losing a boyfriend to another girl or something of that nature. She spoke to them, and they listened.
She embodied her persona quite well. Her role as the angsty, heartbroken schoolgirl suited her. And it wasn’t that she was pretending – she really was that girl. Maybe the circumstances were a bit different from those experienced by her listeners, but she was in many ways in a very similar boat as the ones that they were in. This relatability, in a large way, was what made her such a lovable teen idol.
A Feminist Icon Ahead Of Her Time
When Gore put out ‘You Don’t Own Me’ in 1964, she went from being that sweet, heartbroken young schoolgirl to an independent woman with a strong voice. Even years later, Gore felt like there was something distinctly special about the track. The song not only changed the way Gore was viewed by the public but also shifted the conversations that the public was having about women. It became this sort of anthem proclaiming Gore’s newfound independence while expressing feminist ideas that were extremely uncommon at the time.
You have to understand that the world was very different back then. Some of you will remember just how different times were, while others watching weren’t even alive yet. But as everyone knows, the 60s were a time of change – a time of transformation. Old ideas were being swapped out with fresh news one and the establishment was receiving it’s most threatening challenge that it had faced in ages. People were tired of the old ways – especially women who felt particularly oppressed and subjugated by a world that they felt was patriarchally run by men.
You Don’t Own Me
You Don’t Own Me was written by John Madara and David White – two men – but it helped usher in the second wave of feminism and helped women to realize that they weren’t just prizes to be put on display by their boyfriends, husbands, and the media. That message was nothing short of revolutionary.
When Gore put out that song, she was still figuring out her life, who she was, and what she stood for. In a 1991 interview with NPR’s Fresh AIr, she explained that she always hated what she called ‘wimpy women’, so when she first heard the song, she knew that she wanted to do it.
As she got a bit older, feminism would become a much bigger part of her life, but it’s fascinating how at the very height of her musical career, she was both viewed as a somewhat bratty teen idol as well as a strong, independent woman.
Lesley Gore’s Coming Out Story
But all throughout this era, she was keeping a part of herself a secret. Her sexuality was still something that she was keeping under wraps. Even though she often sang songs about men, Gore was a lesbian during a period of history when it was still extremely taboo not to live a very “normal” socially acceptable heteronormative lifestyle and the music industry was also still very homophobic.
In fact, she didn’t fully realize that she was gay until she was well into her 20s. She did, however, experiment with dating both men and women when she was young, but when she had her first serious relationship in her 20s, she knew for sure who she really was. But even though her family members and close friends knew about her sexual orientation, she didn’t publicly come out until 2004, when she hosted the Emmy award-winning LGBT-oriented television newsmagazine In The Life.
Up until then, it simply seemed easier for her to let the public assume whatever they wanted instead of putting her career and future on the line. A year after coming out, she went on Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show and discussed her journey of self-discovery in more detail.
From Pop Star To Activist
The nice Jewish girl from Brooklyn managed to successfully transition from pop idol to advocate. Although she was a huge recording star, the traditional Jewish value of prioritizing education was still a large part of her story. At the height of her musical career, Gore chose to pursue her degree at Sarah Lawrence College. At the time, she told the press that it would have been foolish of her to leave school to instead focus all of her efforts on finding success in a field that is as unpredictable as the music industry.
This choice proved to be a wise move for Gore. While attending college, she studied up on other subjects that interested her and got involved in political activism. She even was a volunteer for a stint for Robert F. Kennedy’s presidential election campaign.
Later, she worked alongside her brother, Michael, on the hit single ‘Out Here on My Own’, which was featured in the 1980 film Fame and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song. In fact, she composed several other tracks for the Fame track as well.
My Secret Love
In 1996, Gore co-wrote the song ‘My Secret Love’ for the film Grace of My Heart. The movie contained a subplot about a young, closeted lesbian singer named Kelly Porter, who was partly based on Gore herself. In the film, Porter, played by Bridget Fonda, performs the song, and in a way, that was the moment that Gore first really declared her sexuality to the world – albeit in a less than straightforward way.
In 2005, Lesley released Ever Since, her first album of new material in more than 30 years. On that album, Gore included a reworked version of ‘You Don’t Own Me’, which breathed new life into a classic pop song that was more than 40 years old at the time. Ever Since received positive reviews from most national press outlets. In 2011, she would release Magic Colors: The Lost Album, but that would also be the last album that she would ever work on.
Lesley Gore’s Death And Legacy
Gore had been working on a Broadway production about her life as well as on her memoir when she passed away on February 16, 2015, after battling lung cancer. At the time of her death, Gore and her partner, luxury jewelry designer Louis Sasson, had been together for 33 years.
Lesley Gore will be remembered not only as a great entertainer but also as a humanitarian and a woman who helped elevate other female voices during an era of cultural transformation. She questioned the status quo and didn’t let the music industry consume her like it has so many other young stars that have walked in similar shoes as she has.
Did you grow up listening to Lesley Gore’s music? If so, what’s your favorite song of hers? Let us know in the comments section below. And before you go, take a moment to show us a little support by giving this video a like and by subscribing to Facts Verse if you haven’t already. Tap the bell to turn on notifications. That way, you can keep up with all of our latest videos without missing a beat.
And as always, thanks for watching! Take care.