Until the early 1960s, popular music was almost solely a means of entertainment–then came Peter, Paul, and Mary. This trio from Greenwich Village was able to weave a timely message of peace and justice into the mainstream music scene in a way that reached more people than had ever been done before. The world lost a true pioneer of music and humanity when Mary Travers, the unmistakable raw energy and blonde female third of Peter, Paul, and Mary, died last week at age 72 after a battle with leukemia and the side effects of chemotherapy.
Together with Peter Yarrow and Noel Paul Stookey, Mary Travers sang America through the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War with such songs as “If I Had a Hammer”, “Blowin’ in the Wind”, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”, and “Puff (the Magic Dragon)”. Continuing in the tradition of Pete Seeger and the Weavers, Peter, Paul, and Mary asked America to sing along at concerts, protests, and rallies, including the 1963 March on Washington with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Along the way, the trio also helped introduce the world to a host of talented songwriters, including Bob Dylan, Gordon Lightfoot, and John Denver, whose “Leaving on a Jet Plane” was one of the their biggest hits. The trio disbanded in 1970, but reunited in 1978 and continued to record and tour until mid-2009, when Travers insisted on performing to carry on her message for the world, despite requiring a wheelchair and oxygen. Unlike many of their contemporaries, whose musical styles and message changed with the times, Peter, Paul, & Mary continued to cling to their causes and folk music, noting the importance of “carry[ing] it on” for future generations. In later years, the trio made several televised concerts for PBS, many of which were targeted toward teaching children the impact music can have on peace in society.
While not a principal songwriter or producer for the trio, Travers’ contributions to the group were boundless. Her powerful voice, energetic interpretations, and trademark long blonde hair defined the trio for many, and her intelligence and awareness were often the conscience of the group. In early years, she was directed by their manager to remain elusive onstage by focusing only on the songs and not engaging in stage banter. However, in later years, especially after her own solo career and side projects lecturing on the role of music in society and hosting an interview show for BBC, she began to be the social commentator and frequent comedienne of the group during concerts.
Travers leaves behind a tremendous legacy of strength, hope, and peace through music, and her passing leaves an enormous hole in one of the most successful partnerships—a nearly 50-year association—in music history. In a statement, Yarrow wrote, “I have no idea what it will be like to have no Mary in my world”. Stookey included, “I am deadened and heartsick beyond words to consider a life without Mary Travers”. However, Travers’ legacy will live on through the music of her surviving partners and all whose lives she impacted. As stated in a very recent letter from President Barack Obama to Travers, “Your passion for music and your ability to stir change has helped define a genre and a generation.”
Special Thanks to Contributer:
Brandon Moss, Cincinnati Ohio
Music Educator and Stanton’s Customer