Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



Folk trio formed in 1961 in New York City: Peter Yarrow (b 31 May 1938, NYC) and Noel Paul Stookey (b 30 November 1937, Baltimore MD), guitars and vocals; and Mary Travers (b 7 November 1937, Louisville KY; d 16 September 2009, Danbury CT), vocals. Travers had been raised on Josh White, Pete Seeger and the Weavers; she joined the Song Swappers in high school, and that group recorded with Seeger on Folkways; she sang in the chorus in Mort Sahl's short-lived Broadway play The Next President, but always suffered from stage fright. Yarrow had been a solo folksinger, Stookey a stand-up comic and sometime singer; they were put together by Albert Grossman (before he managed Bob Dylan) and were immediately successful: one critic described them as 'the Kingston Trio with sex appeal'; in fact they were the Kingston Trio with a less slick look: Peter and Paul had goatees and the trio was not afraid of a political point of view, while the Kingston Trio avoided any political inference.

Intensive rehearsals saw them in the right place at the right time, riding the wave of protest music and champions of Dylan's songs. Peter, Paul And Mary '62, Moving and In The Wind '63 were definitive albums of their type; their appearances at Newport Folk Festivals were instantly legendary. They allied themselves to civil rights and anti-war movements, and encouraged Gordon Lightfoot and John Denver as well as Dylan; In Concert '65 remains a good example of their appeal. In the halcyon days of '62-3 their hit singles included Seeger's 'If I Had A Hammer' (no. 10), Dylan's 'Blowin' In The Wind' (no. 3) 'Puff The Magic Dragon' (no. 2; the last still a popular children's song, though paranoids then thought it was a drug song). As Dylan began to write more elusive lyrics, they remained faithful to pure folk in albums A Song Will Rise '65, The Peter, Paul And Mary Album '66; Album 1700 '67 was transitional, including the quirky 'I Dig Rock'n'Roll Music'; Late Again '68 kept fans happy; Peter, Paul And Mommy '69 was an album of children's songs. 'Leavin' On A Jet Plane' was a surprise no. 1 '69, and Ten Years Together '70 was a greatest hits album, but their impact had now dulled; Stookey had converted to Christianity; they split, reunited for a George McGovern benefit '72 and in '78 after an anti-nuclear benefit, later did 50 concerts a year. Reunion '78 was not very strong; Such Is Love '82 included Phil Ochs's 'There But For Fortune'.

Stookey released Paul And... '71, Band And Body Works '80, and three sets of biblical songs; Yarrow did the highly praised That's Enough For Me '73 (including an unreleased Paul Simon song), and also wrote the hit 'Torn Between Two Lovers' '71 for Mary McGregor (no. 1 USA, 4 UK). The trio's No Easy Walk To Freedom '86 was still slick but sincere, including songs about El Salvador.

Mary was an attractive blonde and never spoke in concert during their glory years (Grossman wanted an element of mystery); she was the focus of the trio, but if she ever felt self-important, she said, that ended when she tried to play one of their gold albums out of curiosity: it was a gold-coloured Dean Martin record. She did solo albums Mary '71, Morning Glory '72, All My Choices '73, Circles '74 and It's In Every One of Us '78. She was active on behalf of Soviet Jews, and did solo gigs: 'There are always new songs ... but the inherent content of what I'm singing remains the same.' She suffered from leukemia, had a bone-marrow transplant, and several years later died of complications from the chemotherapy.