Leslie Gore died this week. She was only six years older than I, having recorded “It’s My Party” when she was 16. If I ever knew she was so young, I have forgotten. Had I been a pop music aficionado, I would have had the 45 rpm—and known all about her. But, nerd that was, I had only the sheet music. (Yes, I still have it.) I listened to her on Record Round Table on the local radio (KELA, 1470 on your radio dial!) on my transistor radio under my pillow because I wasn’t allowed to listen to popular music. Or at least that is my memory, or what I thought then. One can only sing along with their family to “Sing Along with Mitch” so much. Or watch Lawrence Welk with one’s grandmother. The Lennon Sisters were the only thing palatable about that, and they were not going to hit the pop hits airwaves.
If I had been a feminist I might have known “It’s My Party” was considered by some the feminist anthem. Apparently, Leslie Gore knew the first time she heard it it was about more than heartache. At 16? In 1963?
“When I heard it for the first time, I thought it had an important humanist quality,” Ms. Gore told The Minneapolis Star-Tribune in 2010. “As I got older, feminism became more a part of my life and more a part of our whole awareness, and I could see why people would use it as a feminist anthem. I don’t care what age you are — whether you’re 16 or 116 — there’s nothing more wonderful than standing on the stage and shaking your finger and singing, ‘Don’t tell me what to do.’ ”
I feel like I lived in a cave. I just thought it was a story about teenage rejection.
Leslie Gore, Petula Clark, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Dionne Warwick. These are the female voices of my coming-of-age. There were more, of course, but these were the quietly strong voices I listened to. And whose songs I bought the sheet music for. I know that Joan Baez, for one, has always been an activist—and I have heard her in concert in recent years. But even when I don’t know until their death catches my attention and flings me back in time, I am gratified to learn that the people who provided the sound track of my living have used their fame for good.
RIP Leslie Gore. You are gone too soon.