As promised, here is the “more” about Mary Travers.
Here is the New York Times article about her life. Travers’ “long blond hair and willowy figure” made her the focal point of the group. And there was that rich, smoky voice. Together with Paul Stookey and Peter Yarrow, Peter, Paul and Mary brought counterculture into the mainstream:
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.
At The Reaction, J. Thomas Duffy has photographs and videos of PP&M performances.
Rick Moran, a conservative blogger who is also an independent thinker and not always predictable, writes eloquently and movingly about his family’s love for folk music and what Mary Travers, and PP&M, meant to him:
Mary Travers, Peter Yarrow, and Paul Stookey sang songs that posed questions about American society – and the human condition – that demanded answers. And around campfires, and library sing alongs, our family belted out the music, harmonizing and sharing our sheer joy of being together, learning, laughing, loving. This is why the death of these folk icons are almost like a death in the family to me. The memories the songs they wrote and sang are so powerful, so sweet, so full of the things that make life worth living for all of us, that I cannot help but allow a tear or two to course down my cheek.
As a musical group, Peter, Paul, and Mary were polished, professional, and chose their music with the utmost care. Their manager/producer, the legendary Milt Okun saw to that. With his keen ear and unfailing sense of a commercially viable package, Okun made Peter, Paul, and Mary into a hugely popular act whose success lasted almost a decade. Okun would go on to manage other iconic folk groups like The Chad Mitchell Trio, the Brothers Four, and John Denver.
It was their rendition of Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind that launched their careers. At once beautifully harmonized and featuring a driving rhythm, the song – along with their other huge hits If I had a Hammer and Where have all the Flowers Gone – became anthems of the civil rights and anti-war movements. It is perhaps telling that Hammer and Flowers were both written and originally sung by Pete Seeger and his 50’s era group The Weavers, who were banned in many jurisdictions for their left wing sympathies.
When you’re a kid, you don’t think much about the politics of a song. You sing it because it’s good music and stirs emotions in your breast. Today, I probably don’t agree with 90% of the politics promoted by Seeger, Travers, Baez, and the rest of the folkies from that time. But you can’t argue with the fact that they were dead right about civil rights, and I still think they were mostly right about the Viet Nam War.
I learned long ago you can love left wing writers, artists, singers, and actors by admiring the talent while ignoring the politics. Barbara Streisand is a putz about politics, but an extraordinary talented singer. Joan Didion writes achingly beautiful prose (as does John Updike), but I wouldn’t give a fig for their political opinions. That’s how I feel about Mary Travers and Peter Paul and Mary.
Another conservative blog, Political Byline, has some stunning PP&M videos, and this rather comic commentary:
On a personal note, My mother loved this group as a young lady and still does to this day. With my Mom and many of the other young people at the time; politics was the farthest thing from their minds. They were just enjoying the good music and singing. I am also well aware of the politics of this woman and the other members of the group. However, I do believe a bit clarification is in order. I believe that the liberalism of this woman’s era was not the same stripe of the liberalism of today. It is sort of hard to explain, there has been books written about it. It was the Kennedy Liberalism and not the kind of Liberalism of Barack Obama.
Courtney at Feministing says it in a nutshell:
At a time when there are too few women singing about social justice in the mainstream music world, it’s easy to admire such a bold, unapologetic voice. And hot damn if she didn’t have some hot dresses back in the day. RIP Mary.
When I do these roundups, I try to find pieces that don’t say the same old thing, or at least say it differently. Here’s one, at a blog I don’t usually read, but I really, really like this guy’s style:
Kids, here’s what you missed if you never made it to a Peter, Paul and Mary concert. Because now it is truly, and for all time, too late.
Mary Travers is gone to where the flowers are.
As PPM fans go, I’m not much. I only saw them live two times. But that was enough to know what the rest of you missed. If those were your songs, these were your singers. And everybody else in the hall felt the same way.
I got to see third and maybe fourth generations of kids thrill to Puff the Magic Dragon. Singing along in the audience of a Peter, Paul and Mary concert is as close as I’ll ever get to riding in the peloton for a bike race. Even an average (or less) singer was carried along by the wave. And it was likely that the folks on either side of you were handling seriously musical harmonies and syncopations.
But beyond that was the sense of collective mission. For a couple of hours you were part of a movement that shared values along with melodies. While Tom [Lehrer] was right to skewer the ephemeral effect of the “folk song army” (ready, aim, sing!), it’s still true that such moments hold the power to inspire.
For all the real turmoil of the politics of the Vietnam War, there was a gentleness in the politics of these songs and their singing that are about as far from current political discourse as one can imagine. They were a model for civil action that did not require violence.
How much did it matter that they sang “Blowin’ in the Wind” with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? How much did it matter that so many of their wonderful songs were simple enough for even average guitarists to play (if not nearly as well)? Or that they passed along elements of the great folk music tradition that had nothing to do with politics to another and another generation?
It mattered to lots of us.
You unlucky souls who missed those concerts can easily find their music. Albums and videos are easy to locate and play. And Peter and Paul are apparently working as a duo these days. That’s not bad.
But oh, what it was like to have all three of them weave you the sunshine right there in front of you.