Saturday, September 19, 2009

Mary Travers of Peter, Paul, and Mary, In Memoriam

Mary Travers of the folk group Peter, Paul, and Mary passed Wednesday at the age of 72. The cause was complications from chemotherapy, She had a bone marrow transplant to treat leukaemia.

Mary Travers was born on November 9, 1936 in Louisville, Kentucky. She was only two years old when her parents moved to New York City. She grew up in Greenwich Village, long known for its collection of poets, artists, and folk musicians. She attended Elisabeth Irwin High School in New York City. While in high school she sang with The Song Swappers. The Song Swappers recorded four albums singing backup for Pete Seeger. She was part of the cast of the Broadway musical The Next President.

All this time, Mary Travers had no real intention of making singing her career, even though she had no real thoughts on what to do with her life. It was as the Sixties began that Albert Grossman, who managed an unsuccessful folk musician named Peter Yarrow, decided that an updated version of The Weavers would be a good idea. His idea was that the group should consist of two men and women, and should appeal to the popular audience in much the way The Kingston Trio did. It was while Peter Yarrow and Albert Grossman were talking in the Folklore Centre in Greenwich Village that Yarrow noticed Travers' picture on the wall. He asked Grossman who she was and Grossman told him that it was Mary Travers. He also said that she would be good if he could get her to work.

Peter Yarrow then met with Mary Travers. After singing “Miner’s Lifeguard" together, they decided they harmonised well. Mary Travers suggested her friend Noel Stookey, then doing stand up comedy at the Gaslight, as the third member of the group. Noel Stookey decided to use his middle name "Paul," so that the group could be called "Peter, Paul, and Mary." Their self titled, debut album was released a year later in 1961 and became an immediate hit. The album spent seven weeks at #1 on the Billboard chart. Their rendition of Pete Seeger's "If I Had a Hammer" went to #10 on the Billboard Hot 100.

They would have continued success with further albums. Their second album, Moving, went to #2 on the Billboard chart in 1963. Their third album, In the Wind, released in October of that year, went to #1. It was that same year that they had what may have been their biggest hit, "Puff the Magic Dragon." The song went to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #1 on the Billboard Easy Listening chart. In 1963 they also had hits with Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind" and "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right."

So successful were Peter, Paul, and Mary that they were one of the few folk groups to survive the British Invasion. Released in 1964, their live album In Concert went to #2 on the Billboard chart. Every one of their albums through the end of the Sixties made it into the Top 25 of the Billboard chart. They also continued to have hit singles, including "Cruel War," "I Dig Rock and Roll Music," and "Leaving on a Jet Plane (possibly their biggest hit besides "Puff the Magic Dragon")."

Peter, Paul, and Mary disbanded in 1970 and each member pursued their own solo careers, but with little success. Mary Travers would release four solo albums in the Seventies. Peter, Paul, and Mary would reunite several times over the year, the first time being in 1978 for a concert to protest nuclear energy. Afterwards they recorded several albums. Many compilations of their work have been released as well.

I grew up hearing Peter, Paul, and Mary and developed an appreciation for their music over the years. The group had fantastic harmony together and could be mesmerising when performing. Mary Travers' strong, earnest vocals played a large role in both the group's style and their success. The group was also extremely earnest in their songs, whether singing political anthems such as "If I Had a Hammer" or "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" or more pop oriented songs such as "Puff the Magic Dragon" and "Leaving on a Jet Plane." In many respects they represented the midway point between folk singers like Pete Seeger, who sang almost only politically oriented songs, and The Kingston Trio, who eschewed politics altogether. Regardless, Peter, Paul, and Mary were one of the greatest folk groups of all time. Mary Travers was much of the reason for that.

1 comment:

Holte Ender said...

Peter, Paul and Mary stood the test of time, and anyone who paid attention to music at the time they were performing, will have fond memories of a unique trio with a strong Mary Travers voice. I particularly liked their interpretations of Dylan's music.