Interview with Lesley Gore

AE: I wonder why that would be so different from the film industry.
LG: It is fascinating to know. You know, I read an article a couple of weeks ago in the New York Times talking about how many new women CEOs are in film companies, and it’s certainly been a long and gradual change.

And there are, of course, some women in the music industry who have always been there and have been pioneers and there were even a couple back in the fifties — Florence Greenberg, for example, who started Scepter Records. She was one of a kind. She was one woman in a field of men. And I think because the industry is so stymied, a lot of women haven’t fought for their rightful place.

The record companies are disappearing, so I think women are finding different ways to go into communications.

AE: It seems like it would be a little bit easier in the film industry just because you have certain parts that have to be performed by women, whereas with music —
LG: True enough. I can remember in the early ‘60s that there were a couple of really dynamic women performers at the time — Brenda Lee, there was Connie Francis. And because the fact that they, on a huge show, they usually used twenty male groups and one female, it was years before I ever met Connie or Brenda because we were never on the same show.

Lesley Gore and Connie Francis in 16 Magazine (1964)

AE: It seems like that was sort of an era when there were a lot of women songwriters and girl groups coming out, but I guess in terms of their percentage…
LG: It was still a low percentage. Given that there was that era of girl group music and it’s still very popular, but I think if you looked at the chart from that time you would see many more men on it. Because the industry, they were catering to young girls. I mean, that’s what they thought their audience was. So you can understand their logic, but I don’t think it necessarily gave women the role models that we needed. I know I had to kind of search for mine. I mean, I had mentors.

Quincy Jones, Millie Small, and Lesley Gore
Quincy Jones, Millie

You know, Quincy Jones was a great mentor, but he was a man in a man’s world. Fortunately he’s a very sensitive man and a beautiful human being, and even though he was 14 or 15 years older than me, he’s a capable human being and has great communication skills. He was able to get a great performance out of me because he made me feel comfortable in the studio. But I know I had a conversation just a couple of days ago with Kathleen Hanna of Le Tigre, and she said to me, “Who were your female mentors?”

And I said, Gosh, I didn’t have any. There weren’t any.

I had many people that I idolized who were singers like Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Washington, but these weren’t exactly women I could call up every day and say, Hey, how’s it going, you know?

So I didn’t have a woman mentor until many years later—many, many years later when I became friendly with Bella Abzug. She kind of mentored me as to what’s important for women and where to put my energies in terms of gay women, and what I could best do to help women in our community and children. And that’s pretty much what I live by now, pretty much where I like to concentrate my efforts. You can only bite off so much, so you gotta know what you want to do.

AE: Right. She sounds like she was really a remarkable woman.
LG: Oh my gosh, she was remarkable, and a great, great, dear friend. And we lost her too early, and it was seven years ago recently and it feels like yesterday. The whole community really misses her a lot. We all get together periodically, and it’s Bella we talk about, because she was so dynamic and we miss her so. And there are so few women who can pull women together that way. She was a great human being, a great woman.

AE: You mentioned that you were having a conversation with Kathleen Hanna. How did that come about?
LG: Yeah, it was great actually — we did a kind of interview; she interviewed me for Ms. Magazine, and it’s kind of based on some years ago in Ms., I had interviewed k.d. lang, and it was sort of a singer-to-singer kind of a thing, and they wanted to kind of recreate that with me being questioned, and they thought it would be interesting for Kathleen to do it because, she, after all these years of being an independent songwriter and artist, has become mainstream.

She’s now on a label, which is under the Universal Music Group heading, so she’s got the big machinery behind her now.

And I’ve moved to a little indie label, you know, where we pretty much do everything ourselves, and it’s all exclusively on the Net. So, we kind of changed positions, and we kind of had fun talking about that and looking into the future a little.

AE: And when is that issue coming out?
LG: I don’t think that will be out much before September. She’s a great gal. A really great gal, and very smart. It was a pleasure.

AE: So, you said that you interviewed k.d. lang. When was that?
LG: It was about thirteen or fourteen years ago.

AE: Was that the first time you met her?
LG: Yeah, actually what I had done was, she was performing in Rochester, so I took a plane up there and I saw her concert like on a Tuesday or a Wednesday night, and then we did our conversation the next morning. So I had an opportunity to meet her after the performance and meet the band, and actually see the show. I had heard her records before but I had never seen her in person, and I thought that was an important part of the interview.

AE: So, who are you listening to these days?
LG: [Laughs] Lesley Gore. Actually, the funny thing is, after all these years, I’ve got all these new songs to learn for the show we’re doing at Joe’s Pub, so it’s kind of fun to get down and rehearse new things, and also rethink some of the older songs, how we’re going to do them. It’s kind of fun. It’s a whole new challenge.

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