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Peter, Paul and Mary
Noel "Paul" Stookey
Mary TraversNovember 9, 1936 – September 16, 2009
Artistfacts for Peter, Paul and Mary
Beginning with their debut at the Bitter End in Greenwich Village in 1961, Peter, Paul, and Mary launched a decade of recording songs that would bring socially conscious music to the mainstream. The group is now virtually synonymous with Folk music, but before Peter Yarrow, Paul Stookey, and Mary Travers came on the scene, McCarthyism had forced folk music from the likes of Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie underground. A decade later, the trio had 11 albums and 12 hit singles, including classics such as "If I Had A Hammer
" and "Leaving On A Jet Plane
," firmly establishing themselves as the most successful Folk music group of all time.
Chicago entrepreneur Albert Grossman recognized the potential of both Folk music and of the young singers. As early as 1959 at the first Newport Folk Festival he said, "The American public is like Sleeping Beauty, waiting to be kissed awake by the prince of folk music." After seeing Travers, Stookey, and Yarrow perform in Greenwich Village, he became their manager. Grossman changed Stookey's name from Noel to Paul and negotiated the trio's first recording contract with Warner Brothers. Peter, Paul, & Mary's self-titled debut album hit the Top 10 in 1962 and remained there for an incredible 10 months. Their first single from that album, "Lemon Tree," was a modest chart success, but "If I Had a Hammer" was a Top 10 hit and an anthem of the civil rights movement.
Buoyed by the success of "If I Had a Hammer," the group became associated with the social movements of the 1960s, including civil rights and anti-war protests. They marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma, Alabama in 1963 and later that year performed at the March on Washington. They also introduced the world to Bob Dylan, making a hit out of "Blowin' In The Wind
" and later recording "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right
" and "The Times They Are A Changin'
." The group moved away from Dylan's songs in the mid-1960s and Travers said in 1965, "We started singing songs of Bobby's because they meant something. We don't sing them anymore because he no longer writes anything that means anything to us."
Peter, Paul, & Mary also recorded children's songs, including the 1969 album Peter, Paul, and Mommy
. In 1963, they released "Puff The Magic Dragon
" from the Moving
album and set off a controversy over the lyrics. Widespread rumors claimed that the song contained veiled references to marijuana, but Yarrow insisted that the song is about the lost innocence of childhood and it was actually inspired by a poem written by his college roommate, Leonard Lipton. Lipton is listed as a co-writer on the song's credits.
After a decade of performing as many as 200 concerts a year, the group disbanded in 1970 to pursue solo projects. The trio reunited in 1978 to play a concert to protest nuclear war and released the Reunion album. They continued to perform occasionally until Travers died of complications from leukemia on September 16, 2009. She received a bone marrow transplant in 2006 and reported "feeling fabulous" after the procedure, but her health declined in 2009. Stookey and Yarrow continue to perform without her, but her presence remains with them. When told by a colleague that Mary would be proud of their work on Peter, Paul, and Mary with Symphony Orchestra: The Prague Sessions, Yarrow told Billboard magazine, "That's kind of the bar we've set for anything we do from here on out, I think."