Lesley Gore wasn’t yet 18 when she recorded her best-known hits in the early ’60s, including “It’s My Party” and “You Don’t Own Me.” Their youthful, tuneful defiance has resonated through the decades, foretelling the way pop would mix and R&B as well as pioneering a path for anthems of self-empowerment and feminism. After a career that extended into acting on the ’60s Batman TV series, writing her own songs and receiving an Academy Award nomination, she died February 16 in New York at age 68. As The New York Times reports, Gore’s longtime partner, Lois Sasson, said the cause was lung cancer.
Gore’s first clutch of singles, which also included “It’s My Party” sequel “Judy’s Turn to Cry,” were also among the first pop productions by Quincy Jones, who most famously went on to oversee Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall, Thriller and Bad. “It’s My Party,” with its theme of teenage heartbreak, topped both the U.S. pop and rhythm-and-blues charts, at a time when America was still segregated but the R&B chart was beginning to track an urban jumble spanning from the Miracles and the Impressions to the Four Seasons. The indomitable “You Don’t Own Me” became a feminist rallying cry with a message that later came to the surface in movements such as riot grrl, a connection cemented when Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein appeared lip-synching to the song in a 2012 get-out-the-vote video; among performers covering “You Don’t Own Me” have been Dusty Springfield and Joan Jett.
Gore continued to have modest hits into the mid-’60s, including Marvin Hamlisch’s “Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows” and “California Nights.” She started wrote or co-wrote all the songs on her 1972 album, Someplace Else Now, and reunited with Jones for 1975′s self-written Love Me by Name, which featured the likes of Herbie Hancock. “Out Here on My Own,” a song Gore and her brother Michael Gore co-wrote, garnered an Oscar nod after Irene Cara recorded it for 1980′s Fame soundtrack. Gore came out publicly as gay in 2005, the year she released the cabaret-tilted Ever Since. She appeared in the 2012 political video featuring “You Don’t Own Me.” Her career also brought her into musical theater, and she had been working on a memoir.