The last time Peter, Paul and Mary performed in
Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary Dies at 72
By WILLIAM GRIMES
September 17, 2009
Mary Travers, whose ringing, earnest vocals with the
folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary made songs like "Blowin'
in the Wind," "If I Had a Hammer" and "Where Have All
the Flowers Gone?" enduring anthems of the 1960s
protest movement, died on Wednesday at
The cause was complications from chemotherapy
associated with a bone-marrow transplant she had
several years ago after developing leukemia, said
Heather Lylis, a spokeswoman.
Ms. Travers brought a powerful voice and an unfeigned
urgency to music that resonated with mainstream
listeners. With her straight blond hair and willowy
figure and two bearded guitar players by her side, she
looked exactly like what she was, a
directly from the clubs and the coffeehouses that
nourished the folk-music revival.
"She was obviously the sex appeal of that group, and
that group was the sex appeal of the movement," said
Elijah Wald, a folk-blues musician and a historian of popular music.
Ms. Travers's voice blended seamlessly with those of
her colleagues, Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey, to
create a rich three-part harmony that propelled the
group to the top of the pop charts. Their first album,
"Peter, Paul and Mary," which featured the hit singles
"Lemon Tree" and "If I Had a Hammer," reached No. 1
shortly after its release in March 1962 and stayed
there for seven weeks, eventually selling more than two million copies.
The group's interpretations of Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in
the Wind" and "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right"
translated his raw vocal style into a smooth, more
commercially acceptable sound. The singers also scored
big hits with pleasing songs like the whimsical "Puff
the Magic Dragon" and John Denver's plaintive "Leaving on a Jet Plane."
Their sound may have been commercial and safe, but
early on their politics were somewhat risky for a group
courting a mass audience. Like Mr. Yarrow and Mr.
Stookey, Ms. Travers was outspoken in her support for
the civil-rights and antiwar movements, in sharp
contrast to clean-cut folk groups like the
Trio, which avoided making political statements.
Peter, Paul and Mary went on to perform at the 1963
Over the years they performed frequently at political
rallies and demonstrations in the
abroad. After the group disbanded, in 1970, Ms. Travers
continued to perform at political events around the
world as she pursued a solo career.
"They made folk music not just palatable but accessible
to a mass audience," David Hajdu, the author of
Joan Baez and their circle, said in an interview. Ms.
Travers, he added, was crucial to the group's image,
which had a lot to do with its appeal. "She had a kind
of sexual confidence combined with intelligence,
edginess and social consciousness - a potent
combination," he said. "If you look at clips of their
performances, the camera fixates on her. The act was
all about Mary."
Mr. Yarrow, in a statement on Wednesday, described Ms.
Travers's singing style as an expression of her
character: "honest and completely authentic."
Mr. Stookey, in an accompanying statement, wrote that
"her charisma was a barely contained nervous energy -
occasionally (and then only privately) revealed as stage fright."
Mary Allin Travers was born on Nov. 9, 1936, in
writers, moved to
folk musicians who emerged from the
scene in the early 1960s, Ms. Travers actually came
from the neighborhood. She attended progressive private
schools there, studied singing with the music teacher
Charity Bailey while still in kindergarten and became
part of the folk-music revival as it took shape around her.
"I was raised on Josh White, the Weavers and Pete
Seeger," Ms. Travers told The New York Times in 1994.
"The music was everywhere. You'd go to a party at
somebody's apartment and there would be 50 people
there, singing well into the night."
Song Swappers, which sang backup for Mr. Seeger when
the Folkways label reissued a collection of union songs
under the title "Talking
Swappers made three more albums for Folkways that year,
all featuring Mr. Seeger to some degree.
Ms. Travers had no plans to sing professionally. Folk
singing, she later said, had been a hobby. At
clubs friends like Fred Hellerman of the Weavers and
Theodore Bikel would coax her onstage to sing, but her
extreme shyness made performing difficult. In 1958 she
appeared in the chorus and sang one solo number in Mort
Sahl's short-lived Broadway show "The Next President,"
but as the '60s dawned she found herself at loose ends.
By chance, Albert Grossman, who managed a struggling
folk singer named Peter Yarrow and would later take on
Mr. Dylan as a client, was intent on creating an
updated version of the Weavers for the baby-boom
generation. He envisioned two men and a woman with the
crossover appeal of the
talking to Grossman in the
Village, noticed Ms. Travers's photograph on the wall
and asked who she was. "That's Mary Travers," Grossman
said. "She'd be good if you could get her to work."
Mr. Yarrow went to Ms. Travers's apartment on Macdougal
Street, across from the Gaslight, one of the principal
folk clubs. They harmonized on "Miner's Lifeguard," a
union song, and decided that their voices blended. To
fill out the trio, Ms. Travers suggested Noel Stookey,
a friend doing folk music and stand-up comedy at the Gaslight.
After rehearsing for seven months, with the producer
and arranger Milt Okun coaching them, Peter, Paul and
Mary - Mr. Stookey adopted his middle name, Paul,
because it sounded better - began performing in 1961 at
released their first album.
Virtually overnight Peter, Paul and Mary became one of
the most popular folk-music groups in the world. The
albums "Moving" and "In the Wind," both released in
1963, rose to the top of the charts and stayed there
for months. In concert the group's direct, emotional
style of performance lifted audiences to their feet to
deliver rapturous ovations.
Ms. Travers, onstage, drew all eyes as she shook her
hair, bobbed her head in time to the music and clenched
a fist when the lyrics took a dramatic turn. On
instructions from Grossman, who wanted her to retain an
air of mystery, she never spoke. The live double album
"In Concert" (1964) captures the fervor of their performances.
On television the group's mildly bohemian look - Ms.
Travers favored beatnik clothing and Mr. Yarrow and Mr.
Stookey had mustaches and goatees - gave mainstream
audiences their first glimpse of a subculture that had
previously been ridiculed on shows like "The Many Loves
of Dobie Gillis."
"You cannot overemphasize those beards," Mr. Wald said.
"They looked like
artistic, intellectual, beat image."
Although the arrival of the Beatles and other British
invasion bands spelled the end of the folk revival,
Peter, Paul and Mary remained popular throughout the
1960s. The albums "A Song Will Rise" (1965), "See What
Tomorrow Brings" (1965) and "Album 1700" (1967) sold
well, as did the singles "For Lovin' Me" and "Early
Morning Rain," both by Gordon Lightfoot, and Mr.
Dylan's "When the Ship Comes In." The gently satirical
single "I Dig Rock and Roll Music" (1967) reached the
Top 10, and "Leaving on a Jet Plane" (1969), their last
hit, reached No. 1 on the charts.
In 1970, after releasing the greatest-hits album "Ten
Years Together," the group disbanded. Ms. Travers
embarked on a solo career, with limited success,
releasing five albums in the 1970s. The first, "Mary"
(1971), was the most successful, followed by "Morning
Glory" (1972), "All My Choices" (1973), "Circles"
(1974) and "It's in Everyone of Us" (1978).
Ms. Travers's first three marriages ended in divorce.
She is survived by her fourth husband, Ethan Robbins;
two daughters, Erika Marshall of
Alicia Travers of Greenwich, Conn.; a sister, Ann
Peter, Paul and Mary reunited to perform at a benefit
to oppose nuclear power in 1978 and thereafter kept to
a limited schedule of tours around the world. Many of
their concerts benefited political causes. "I was
raised to believe that everybody has a responsibility
to their community and I use the word very loosely,"
Ms. Travers told The Times in 1999. "It's a big
community. If I get recognized in the middle of the
It was a faithful community. Musical fashions changed,
but fans stayed loyal to the music and the political
ideals of the group. Ms. Travers once told the music
magazine Goldmine, "People say to us, `Oh, I grew up
with your music,' and we often say, sotto voce, `So did we.' "