Saturday, September 19, 2009

Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary Dies at 72



The last time Peter, Paul and Mary performed in Baltimore, I was disappointed as the concert was relatively apolitical.  And this was during the Bush II reign.  Kagiso, Max


Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary Dies at 72



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 Danbury Hospital

in Connecticut. She was 72 and lived in Redding, Conn.


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 Greenwich Villager

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 Kingston

Trio, which avoided making political statements.


Peter, Paul and Mary went on to perform at the 1963

March on Washington and joined the voting-rights

marches from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., in 1965.


Over the years they performed frequently at political

rallies and demonstrations in the United States and

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

"Positively Fourth Street," a book about Mr. Dylan,

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

Louisville, Ky. When she was 2 her parents, both

writers, moved to New York. Almost unique among the

folk musicians who emerged from the Greenwich Village

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."


While at Elisabeth Irwin High School, she joined the

Song Swappers, which sang backup for Mr. Seeger when

the Folkways label reissued a collection of union songs

under the title "Talking Union" in 1955. The Song

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 New York

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 Kingston Trio. Mr. Yarrow,

talking to Grossman in the Folklore Center in Greenwich

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

Folk City and the Bitter End. The next year they

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 Greenwich Village to the rest of

America. They were the first to go mainstream with an

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 Naples, Fla., and

Alicia Travers of Greenwich, Conn.; a sister, Ann

Gordon of Oakland, Calif.; and two grandchildren.


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

Sinai Desert I have a big community."


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.' "




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