Mary Travers of Folk Trio 'Peter, Paul and Mary' Dies

FamilyMary TraversHealthPeter, Paul, and Mary (music group)Greenwich Village

BOSTON -- Mary Travers, one part of the folk trio Peter,Paul, and Mary, who used beautiful, tranquil harmonies to conveythe angst and turmoil of the Vietnam antiwar movement, racialdiscrimination and more, died after a yearslong battle withleukemia. She was 72.

The band's publicist, Heather Lylis, said Travers died Wednesdayat Danbury Hospital in Connecticut.

Bandmate Peter Yarrow said that in her final months, Travershandled her declining health with bravery and generosity, showingher love to friends and family "with great dignity and withoutrestraint."

"It was, as Mary always was, honest and completely authentic,"he said. "That's the way she sang, too - honestly and withcomplete authenticity."

Noel "Paul" Stookey, the trio's other member, praised Traversfor her inspiring activism, "especially in her defense of thedefenseless."

"I am deadened and heartsick beyond words to consider a lifewithout Mary Travers and honored beyond my wildest dreams to haveshared her spirit and her career," he said.

Mary Allin Travers was born on Nov. 9, 1936, in Louisville, Ky.,the daughter of journalists who moved the family to Manhattan'sbohemian Greenwich Village. She quickly became enamored with folkperformers like the Weavers and was soon performing with PeteSeeger, a founding member of the Weavers who lived in the samebuilding as the Travers family.

With a group called the Song Swappers, Travers backed Seeger onone album and two shows at Carnegie Hall. She also appeared (as oneof a group of folk singers) in a short-lived 1958 Broadway showcalled "The Next President," starring comedian Mort Sahl.

It wasn't until she met up with Yarrow and Stookey that Traverswould taste success on her own. Yarrow was managed by Albert B.Grossman, who later worked in the same capacity for Bob Dylan.

In the book "Positively 4th Street" by David Hajdu, Traversrecalled that Grossman's strategy was to "find a nobody that hecould nurture and make famous."

The budding trio, boosted by the arrangements of Milt Okun,spent seven months rehearsing in her Greenwich Village apartmentbefore their 1961 public debut at the Bitter End.

Their beatnik look - a tall blonde flanked by a pair of goateedguitarists - was a part of their initial appeal. As The New YorkTimes critic Robert Shelton put it not long afterward, "Sex appealas a keystone for a folk-song group was the idea of the group'smanager ... who searched for months for `the girl' until he decidedon Miss Travers."

The trio mingled their music with liberal politics, both onstageand off. Their version of "If I Had a Hammer" became an anthemfor racial equality. Other hits included "Lemon Tree," "Leavingon a Jet Plane" and "Puff (The Magic Dragon.)"

They were early champions of Dylan and performed his "Blowin'in the Wind" at the March on Washington in August 1963.

And they were vehement in their opposition to the Vietnam War,managing to stay true to their liberal beliefs while creating musicthat resonated in the American mainstream.

The group collected five Grammy Awards for their three-partharmony on enduring songs like "Leaving on a Jet Plane," "Puff(The Magic Dragon)" and "Blowin' in the Wind."

At one point in 1963, three of their albums were in the top sixBillboard best-selling LPs as they became the biggest stars of thefolk revival movement.

It was heady stuff for a trio that had formed in the early 1960sin Greenwich Village, running through simple tunes like "Mary Hada Little Lamb."

Their debut album came out in 1962, and immediately scored apair of hits with their versions of "If I Had a Hammer" and"Lemon Tree." The former won them Grammys for best folk recordingand best performance by a vocal group.

"Moving" was the follow-up, including the hit tale ofinnocence lost, "Puff (The Magic Dragon)" - which reached No. 2on the charts, and generated since-discounted reports that it wasan ode to marijuana.

Album No. 3, "In the Wind," featured three songs by thethen-22-year-old Dylan. "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" and"Blowin' in the Wind" both reached the top 10, bringing Dylan'smaterial to a massive audience; the latter shipped 300,000 copiesduring one two-week period.

"Blowin' In the Wind" became another civil rights anthem, andPeter, Paul and Mary fully embraced the cause. They marched withthe Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Ala., and performed withhim in Washington.

In a 1966 Times interview, Travers said the three worked welltogether because they respected one another. "There has to be acertain amount of love just in order for you to survive together,"she said. "I think a lot of groups have gone down the tubesbecause they were not able to relate to one another."

With the advent of the Beatles and Dylan's switch to electricguitar, the folk boom disappeared. Travers expressed disdain forfolk-rock, telling the Chicago Daily News in 1966 that "it's sobadly written. ... When the fad changed from folk to rock, theydidn't take along any good writers."

But the trio continued their success, scoring with thetongue-in-cheek single "I Dig Rock and Roll Music," a gentleparody of the Mamas and the Papas, in 1967 and the JohnDenver-penned "Leaving on a Jet Plane" two years later.

They also continued as boosters for young songwriters, recordingnumbers written by then-little-known Gordon Lightfoot and LauraNyro.

In 1969, the group earned their final Grammy for "Peter, Pauland Mommy," which won for best children's album. They disbanded in1971, launching solo careers - Travers released five albums - thatnever achieved the heights of their collaborations.

Over the years they enjoyed several reunions, including aperformance at a 1978 anti-nuclear benefit organized by Yarrow anda 35th anniversary album, "Lifelines," with fellow folkiesRamblin' Jack Elliott, Dave Van Ronk and Seeger. A boxed set oftheir music was released in 2004.

They remained politically active as well, performing in 1995 onthe anniversary of the Kent State shootings and performing forCalifornia strawberry pickers.

Travers had undergone a successful bone marrow transplant totreat her leukemia and was able to return to performing after that.

"It was like a miracle," Travers told The Associated Press in2006. "I'm just feeling fabulous. What's incredible is someone hasgiven your life back. I'm out in the garden today. This time lastyear I was looking out a window at a hospital." She also said shetold the marrow donor "how incredibly grateful I was."

But by mid-2009, Yarrow told WTOP radio in Washington that hercondition had worsened again and he thought she would no longer beable to perform.

Travers lived for many years in Redding, Conn. She is survivedby her husband, Ethan Robbins, and daughters, Alicia and Erika.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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