Lesley Gore, a 16-year-old high school wonder who lit up the charts in 1963 with “It’s My Party” and “Judy’s Turn to Cry,” passed away this week.
Gore was a more independent force than was widely appreciated at the time, even with the success of her proto-feminist anthem, “You Don’t Own Me." (The NY Times obit called her a teen voice of “defiance.”) Lately I've been struck by the fact that many white-bread singers of that era had more going for them between the ears than I had realized—which became obvious as they got older and bolder.
As an example, I’ve written previously about the cherubic-sounding Singing Nun—Jeanine Deckers—who, while living in a Dominican convent in Belgium, had an international hit, “Dominique,” at the same time that Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me” was climbing the US charts. The diminutive sister later became a political activist, feminist, and church critic before committing suicide with her gay lover! Gore, while never as outspoken as Deckers turned out to be, also became a gay feminist.
I don’t want to trot out all the I-Did-It-My-Way clichés, but there is something we can learn from hitsters (hit sisters?) like Gore—and Deckers—who ignored what others expected of them. Even with several hits under her belt—and the great Quincy Jones producing her records—Leslie Gore still called her own shots.
For one thing, she resisted the pressure to play music full-time. After graduating from the Dwight School for Girls in Englewood, NJ (imagine having a Grammy-award-winning #1 hit while attending high school!), she became a full-time college student at Sarah Lawrence at the peak of her career. During that time she limited her gigs to weekends and holidays! (Can you picture Katy Perry only performing Saturdays and Sundays while attending Ole Miss or Miley Cyrus doing the same while attending, say, Oral Roberts?) Despite that, Lesley Gore went on to have a successful career in TV acting, recording, and songwriting, as reported in Rolling Stone.
The lesson here is that business—and the world at large—always needs more leaders, practitioners, technicians, writers, designers, craftsmen, etc. who can think for themselves. We still have too many copycat businesses knocking out copycat products and services. Whether we’re talking insurance or healthcare, construction or retail, entertainment or art, we're still playing it safe and predictable. And we're still deferring to authority or orthodoxy to tell us what to do.
One of the musical exceptions to this that I love to cite is the band, Walk Off The Earth, known for its quirky DIY videos and indie spirit. As WOTE's Sarah Blackwood once told me, “There are very few people telling us we can't make things happen, and the ones who do, we tell them to go f*ck themselves—and then we make it happen…Our independence is what made us, so we will never let that go.”
That independence is what Lesley Gore stood for, with a simple message for everyone: "Hey, it's your party."