Thursday, September 17, 2009

Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary, Has Died at Age 72

Mary Travers, the "Mary" of the famed folk-trio Peter, Paul, and Mary, died yesterday at the age of 72 after a long battle with leukemia.

From the AP:

Travers joined forces with Peter Yarrow and Noel Paul Stookey in the early 1960s.

The trio mingled their music with liberal politics, both onstage and off. Their version of "If I Had a Hammer" became an anthem for racial equality. Other hits included "Lemon Tree," "Leaving on a Jet Plane" and "Puff (The Magic Dragon.)"

They were early champions of Bob Dylan and performed his "Blowin' in the Wind" at the August 1963 March on Washington.

And they were vehement in their opposition to the Vietnam War, managing to stay true to their liberal beliefs while creating music that resonated in the American mainstream.

The group collected five Grammy Awards for their three-part harmony on enduring songs like "Leaving on a Jet Plane," "Puff (The Magic Dragon)" and "Blowin' in the Wind."

At one point in 1963, three of their albums were in the top six Billboard best-selling LPs as they became the biggest stars of the folk revival movement.

It was heady stuff for a trio that had formed in the early 1960s in Greenwich Village, running through simple tunes like "Mary Had a Little Lamb."

They debuted at the Bitter End in 1961, and their beatnik look — a tall blonde flanked by a pair of goateed guitarists — was a part of their initial appeal. As The New York Times critic Robert Shelton put it not long afterward, "Sex appeal as a keystone for a folk-song group was the idea of the group's manager, Albert B. Grossman, who searched for months for `the girl' until he decided on Miss Travers."

Peter, Paul and Mary peaked in a time before I arrived on this Earth, but I vividly remember listening to their recordings growing up. I remember giving endless plays to their "10th Anniversary" cassette in my boombox which contained hits like "If I Had a Hammer", "Blowin' in the Wind", and "500 Miles". Their music had a kind of hypnotic effect as it was so easy to get lost in the lyrics and the fantastic harmonies of all their songs.

I also have vivid memories of watching countless PBS concert specials where the trio would reunite to sing their hits to old friends or to sing songs like "Puff the Magic Dragon" and "Right Field" to new generations of children who would gather around the stage to watch them sing. They had the ability to transcend generations. To stand firmly against the tragic war in Vietnam and to get a new generation of children to sing along to "We Shall Overcome" in the 80's and 90's. It is the impact on the world that few are lucky enough to have and I am thankful that I have been able to know their music.

Jeffrey Weiss at Politics Daily writes:

For all the real turmoil of the politics of the Vietnam War, there was a gentleness in the politics of these songs and their singing that are about as far from current political discourse as one can imagine. They were a model for civil action that did not require violence.

How much did it matter that they sang "Blowin' in the Wind" with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? How much did it matter that so many of their wonderful songs were simple enough for even average guitarists to play (if not nearly as well)? Or that they passed along elements of the great folk music tradition that had nothing to do with politics to another and another generation?

It mattered to lots of us.

You unlucky souls who missed those concerts can easily find their music. Albums and videos are easy to locate and play. And Peter and Paul are apparently working as a duo these days. That's not bad.

But oh, what it was like to have all three of them weave you the sunshine right there in front of you.

Though I never saw them live, I do have a sense that I lost one of my earliest musical "friends" that I came know in my discovery of what music was all about. Rest in Peace.

1 comment:

Grumpy said...

True icons of the music world as well as the civil rights and anti-war movements. RIP Mary.