Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary

Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary

BOSTON (AP) — Mary Travers, one part of the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary, which used beautiful, tranquil harmonies to convey the angst and turmoil of the Vietnam anti-war movement, racial discrimination and more, died after a yearslong battle with leukemia. She was 72.

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

Though their music sounded serene, Peter, Paul and Mary represented the frustration and upheaval of the 1960s, as a generation of liberal activists used their music not only to protest political policies, but also to spark social change. And even as the issues changed, and the fiery protests abated, the group remained immersed in musical activism.

Bandmate Peter Yarrow said that in her final months, Travers handled her declining health with bravery and generosity, showing her love to friends and family "with great dignity and without restraint."

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

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

"I am deadened and heartsick beyond words to consider a life without Mary Travers and honored beyond my wildest dreams to have shared 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's bohemian Greenwich Village. She quickly became enamored with folk performers like the Weavers and was soon performing with Pete Seeger, a founding member of the Weavers who lived in the same building as the Travers family.

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

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

Their beatnik look — a tall blonde flanked by a pair of goateed guitarists — was a part of their initial appeal. As The New York Times critic Robert Shelton put it not long afterward, "Sex appeal as a keystone for a folk-song group was the idea of the group's manager ... who searched for months for 'the girl' until he decided on Miss Travers."

The trio mingled their music with liberal politics, both onstage and off. Their version of "If I Had a Hammer" became an anthem for racial equality. Other hits included "Lemon Tree," ''Leaving on 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 music that resonated in the American mainstream.

In a statement Thursday, the Songwriters Hall of Fame, which honored the group with a lifetime achievement award in 2006, said Peter, Paul and Mary achieved "a rarefied level of commercial success without compromise, while continuing a centuries-old tradition of people raising their voices in song for the sake of freedom."

The group collected five Grammy Awards for their three-part harmony on enduring songs like "Leaving on a Jet Plane," ''Puff (The Magic Dragon)" and "Blowin' in the Wind," and were near the top of the charts as the biggest stars of the folk revival movement.

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

Their debut album came out in 1962, and immediately scored a pair of hits with their versions of "If I Had a Hammer" and "Lemon Tree." ''Moving" was the follow-up, including the hit tale of innocence lost, "Puff (The Magic Dragon)" — which reached No. 2 on the charts, and generated since-discounted reports that it was an ode to marijuana.

Album No. 3, "In the Wind," featured three songs by the then-22-year-old Dylan. "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" and "Blowin' in the Wind" both reached the top 10, bringing Dylan's material to a massive audience.