Most teenage girls in the 60’s celebrated their 16th birthday with a Sweet Sixteen. Lesley Gore had a different kind of party….hers was on a record. The New Jersey teen (born Lesley Goldstein) had her first hit, It’s My Party, courtesy of producer Quincy Jones, beating out Phil Spector’s planned version (which he never released). It went to #1, and started a string of hits that included the follow-up Judy’s Turn to Cry and She’s A Fool. She also recorded the ahead-of-her-time feminist anthem, You Don’t Own Me, making up for some of her less-empowering hits like Maybe I Know and That’s The Way Boys Are. She was offered the song Groovy Kind of Love, but her record label refused to let her record a song with the word “groovy”. It went on to be a #2 song for Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders. She appeared in a few movies, performing as herself in Ski Party, The Girls on the Beach and The T.A.M.I Show concert film, with acts including Chuck Berry, the Rolling Stones and Jan and Dean, and on TV in Batman (as Pink Pussycat), The Donna Reed Showand Shindig, among others.
After graduating from Sarah Lawrence College, she stayed out of the spotlight until 1980, when Out Here On Our Own, a song she co-wrote with her brother Michael for the movie Fame, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song. She continued performing and writing songs, including My Secret Love, for the 1996 film Grace of My Heart. The song was performed by Bridget Fonda, who plays a closeted young singer, based in part on Lesley, who came out in 2004, when she hosted a TV series, In the Life, which focused on LGBTQ issues. In a 2005 interview on Ellen she said she’d known she was gay since she was 20, but never felt the need to hide it or go public until then.
She had been working on a Broadway show about her life when she died of lung caner in 2015. Her New York Times obituary called her “the voice of teenage girls aggrieved by fickle boyfriends, moving from tearful self-pity to fierce self-assertion”.
We shot this interview with Lesley in LA several years before her death.