The death of Mary Travers from leukemia will bring tributes and accolades, as it should, for a woman who helped shape popular culture as one-third of the 1960s folk darlings Peter, Paul and Mary. For the unfamiliar, there’s so much value in her story.11/9/36 – 9/16/09
Right now, it’s being told and retold: how Travers teamed up with Peter Yarrow and Noel Paul Stookey to spread their anti-war, civil rights messages via three-part harmonies; how their version of Bob Dylan’s “If I Had a Hammer” became an anthem for racial equality; how they confounded conservatives with the is-it-pot-or-is-it-not “Puff (The Magic Dragon).”
And, yes, how Travers in 1967 produced one of the most beautifully bittersweet songs of its kind, the gently heart-tugging “Leaving on a Jet Plane.”
There’s so much to know about the times that produced Dylan, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie and others of that ilk — the fight for equal rights for black Americans, the opposition to a war in Vietnam that twisted the U.S. into knots, the quest for social justice and peace among “brothers and sisters all over this land.”
What many don’t know is that Peter, Paul & Mary also sold a lot of records. At one point nearly a half-century ago, three of their long-playing vinyl albums (LPs, as they were known) were among the top six sellers — in the same year.
Also: that Travers, who was originally from Kentucky, lived in the same Greenwich Village building as Pete Seeger — which is where you could say she got her start.
Travers underwent a bone marrow transplant in 2006, but her condition worsened and she died Wednesday, 72 years old, at Danbury Hospital in Connecticut.
Yarrow released a statement calling Travers’ vocals “honest and completely authentic,” like her personality. Stookey praised her charisma.
In the end, she and her mates sang simple songs with unrivaled power, even in the hushed, early-morning dew of Leaving on a Jet Plane .
Yet as many look back more than 40 years at video of Peter, Paul & Mary, you might also want to consider their offspring. As one example, try this number that Steve Earle wrote for Seeger. Someone once asked him when he’d stop singing “those [expletive] folk songs,” Earle said. His response: Steve’s Hammer
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