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'It's My Party,' ' You Don't Own Me' Singer Lesley Gore Dies At 68


And we're going to look back now at the life of singer Lesley Gore. She died yesterday. Lesley Gore is best known for that anthem of teen misery, the 1963 classic "It's My Party." But as NPR's Sam Sanders reports, her career was bigger than just one hit.

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: Brooklyn-born, New Jersey-bred Lesley Sue Goldstein was only 16 when she released "It's My Party" under the name Lesley Gore.


LESLEY GORE: (Singing) It's my party and I'll cry if I want to, cry if I want to, cry if I want to...

SANDERS: The song went straight to the top of the charts. But only months before the hit, Gore was just trying to learn how to sing.


GORE: I was taken with singing from the time I was quite young. At one point, I decided, I'm going to take vocal lessons. I was about 15 years old, and I was living in New York City.

SANDERS: Gore told the story to World Cafe in 2005. After about six or seven months of training, Gore says her teacher thought they should try something different.


GORE: And then one day I came into his studio, and he said, we're not going to have a lesson today. We're going to go to this little studio upstairs and just do three or four demos.

SANDERS: One of the demos ended up with Mercury Records President Irving Green.


GORE: Irving put those demos on Quincy's desk, and the rest is pretty much history.

SANDERS: That Quincy she's speaking of - producer Quincy Jones. He was then A&R guy at Mercury. He produced "It's My Party" for Gore, and the duo followed with more hits like "Judy's Turn To Cry" and "She's A Fool." In late 1963, Jones and Lesley Gore released a song that would become a feminist anthem - "You Don't Own Me."


GORE: (Singing) You don't own me. I'm not just one of your many toys.

SANDERS: Gore kept recording and even appeared on the TV series "Batman" and graduated from Sarah Lawrence College all before the '60s were through. In the '70s, Gore fell out of the spotlight. But in 1980, she co-wrote the song "Out Here On My Own" with her brother Michael for the movie "Fame." It earned her an Academy Award nomination. In 2005, Lesley Gore came out as a lesbian. It was the same year she released her comeback album "Ever Since." Record executive Blake Morgan helped produce it.

BLAKE MORGAN: She was old-school, emphasis on the school part. I think she took everyone around her to school who was making music with her.

SANDERS: Morgan knew Gore since he was a child. He says she taught him how to drive and how to smoke. And Morgan says it's impossible to describe Lesley in just one word.

MORGAN: She was a broad. She had moxie. She was tough. She had all of that, and a strength to her that I think you were naturally drawn to on or off the record.

SANDERS: Lesley Gore died Monday in New York of cancer. She was 68 years old. Sam Sanders, NPR News.


GORE: (Singing) And don't tell me what to do. And don't tell me what to say... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sam Sanders is a correspondent and host of It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders at NPR. In the show, Sanders engages with journalists, actors, musicians, and listeners to gain the kind of understanding about news and popular culture that can only be reached through conversation. The podcast releases two episodes each week: a "deep dive" interview on Tuesdays, as well as a Friday wrap of the week's news.