As a teenage singer in the 1960s who fit the all-American girl mold, Lesley Gore may have seemed like an unlikely figure to carve out a lasting legacy of feminist resilience and independence. The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts has now made the musician’s archive available for anyone interested in her artistic evolution, giving fans a chance to browse through notated music sheets and an unfinished memoir.
Lois Sasson, Gore’s partner for more than 30 years, began working with the library in February 2016, sifting through storage boxes and cataloging each object with help from the singer’s family and friends. Sasson emphasized that the collection should remain free to the public and housed in New York, where Gore lived, said Jessica Wood, the assistant curator of music and recorded sound at the Library for the Performing Arts. Gore died of lung cancer in 2015. Sasson, a fierce defender of women’s and gay rights, died of Covid-19 in 2020.
The archive, which contains scrapbooks, newspaper clippings, fan club files, music theory books, a birthday invitation, family photographs and album covers, was first made available on May 31, and all printed and written works can be examined on request. The library is still working to digitize the audio and movie image recordings that document Gore’s rehearsals, performances and television appearances, as well as visual works like a 1968 Robert F. Kennedy ad campaign.
“By studying her archive, it elevates all of the women performers who sang other people’s materials but really brought a lot of genius to the way they animated those songs,” Wood said.
Gore, known for bubble gum classics like “It’s My Party,” the No. 1 hit from 1963 recorded by Quincy Jones, and “Judy’s Turn to Cry,” focused largely on love and heartbreak until the 1963 release of “You Don’t Own Me.” The song, written by John Madara and David White, became an early feminist anthem, rebuking the idea that the singer should bend to the whims of a man. “I’m free and I love to be free,” Gore sang, “to live my life the way I want/To say and do whatever I please.” All three songs were recorded before she turned 18.
Brad Schreiber, an author who chronicles social change through music, said that while Gore lacked power as a young female recording artist, “You Don’t Own Me” echoed a strong statement about reclaiming respect and dignity.
“She didn’t have to dedicate her entire career to do socially conscious music,” Schreiber said. “She did one very important song that has had a far-reaching effect.”
The archive includes music scores of “You Don’t Own Me” that were used for performances to promote Gore’s 2005 “Ever Since” LP (her 11th and final studio album), along with musical arrangements of the release by Claus Ogerman, Joe Glandro and Mariano Longo.
Susan Kahaner, Sasson’s sister, said Gore admired the activism of the pioneering feminist Betty Friedan and was particularly drawn to the civil rights advocate and politician Bella Abzug, who chanted, “This woman’s place is in the House, the House of Representatives!” as she ran and won a seat in the House in 1970.
“Bella and that whole group of feminists opened up Lesley’s eyes to what is possible,” Kahaner said.
Gore was devoted to her education, majoring in English and American literature at Sarah Lawrence College during the peak of her pop career. Kahaner said that as an avid reader of fiction and nonfiction as well as a lover of jazz and pop music, Gore would be proud to share her work with researchers and students at the library:
“We couldn’t be happier that this is the home that will keep Lesley’s legacy alive.”