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The '60s were a time of pint-sized powerhouses: Brenda Lee, Little Peggy March and Lesley Gore, the Brooklyn-born belter with the flip hairdo. Unlike the others, Gore is still a part of pop culture -- she's been singing "It's My Party," "Judy's Turn to Cry" and "You Don't Own Me" for three decades. 

Even at the age of 16, Gore actively sought material with strong themes. "I remember when my producer, Quincy Jones, and I heard 'It's My Party' -- I had an instant relationship to it," the 51-year-old Gore tells PEOPLE Online. "What was it about that song? Probably the little middle class white rebel in me was trying desperately to get out. And 'You Don't Own Me' made it more so. So I was choosing material that seemed to be earmarking where I was going to go philosophically. Those songs shaped my career in terms of ideology."

Today, the bubble-gum '60s behind her, Gore's version of "You Don't Own Me" has become a feminist theme song, right up there with "I Am Woman." Bette Midler, Diane Keaton and Goldie Hawn bee-bopped to it in the 1996 film "First Wives Club." ABC plans to use "You Don't Own Me" as the theme for a 1999 special about the women's movement. But Gore points out that the song was written by two males, John Madera and David White, who first played the song on guitar for her in a resort cabana next to a swimming pool. "At that time," Gore says, "I wasn't writing music. I never had any notion to do that back then."

Discovered as a result of a demo tape her cousin played for the president of Mercury Records, the husky-voiced Gore recalls, "I was a 16-year-old with no technique who had been in the occasional high school show. I sang from the heart. I did on stage what came naturally to me. I had to perform by trial and error. Every show for me was tremendously anxiety-ridden. Television shows were -- forget it, I was a basket case. The first time I did 'The Ed Sullivan Show,' I don't remember how I got through it. I got on the X on the floor after the Pillsbury commercial, and, boom, I came to and it was over. There was a lot of fear I had to deal with. It was not fun."

Gore, however, says she "felt compelled to challenge myself to get past these problems." Her perseverance paid off. She enjoyed enormous popularity and branched out from just singing, playing herself on "The Donna Reed Show" and appearing as Catwoman's sidekick on the "Batman" TV series. And with her two dozen-plus recording hits, beginning with the smash "It's My Party" in 1963, Gore discovered something about her audience and herself.

"I received a lot of mail from young people," she recalls. "I was living in New Jersey in a middle class community, going to a private school in Englewood. I wasn't a princess, but I led a sheltered, wonderful life. I had anything I wanted, all at my fingertips. I knew there were people who didn't have what I had, but I wasn't meeting those 16-year-olds. I was, however, meeting them in letters, and they told me about their abusive situations and horrible living conditions. It was a reality I was not ready for. You take the good with the bad."

Today, living in New York City, Gore keeps busy with a solid concert career and writing music -- she has an Oscar nomination for co-writing the hit single "Out Here on My Own" for the 1980 film "Fame." Her song "My Secret Love," written with Larry Klein and David Baerwald, was performed in the movie "Grace of My Heart," starring Bridget Fonda. Gore recently popped up on an episode of "Murphy Brown" (as herself), along with Dick Clark, Fabian and Chubby Checker. 

As her latest project, the singer-songwriter hopes to market the video of a concert she did in East Hampton, NY. She'd like to use it to raise money for her late friend Bella Abzug's organization, WEDO (Women's Environmental Development Organization). "In the concert," Gore says, "Bella, who had a wonderful singing voice, did "Falling in Love Again" a la Marlene Dietrich -- wearing the tux, holding the cigarette holder, the whole thing. After that song, I kept Bella on stage, and all the women in the show did a song I wrote called 'When Women Run the World.' A video to raise money for the environmental organization would marry my music to a good cause."

Looking back on her career, Gore says, "The song I treasure most is 'You Don't Own Me.' Every time I get up on a stage, that song grows, gets larger and larger to me. In a funny way, when we did those songs, it was just, you know, 'What did you do on Saturday?' 'Oh, we recorded 'It's My Party.' Thirty-five years later, it means so much more. Those songs have touched many lives. It's a snowball I've had no control over. In many, many ways, those songs and the audience connection have impacted me, and I'm still sorting it out."

by Maria Ciacia (People Online Magazine)

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