Mary Travers died today. Probably the most controversial member of Peter, Paul and Mary, despite Peters arrest in the late 60s for an incident involving an underage fan. (That’s what can happen when you’re a political activist, you don’t ask if she’s underage, but her Conservative Mom and Dad find out… and also realize you have a lot of money.)
For those familiar with Mary’s later years as an activist and a loud voice for feminism in general during the 70s, they may not know that she hardly ever spoke on stage or in interview during the early years. She felt out of place speaking, as she explained in an interview once, and that she might misrepresent the group.
She sang in a duo with Peter Yarrow at first, but neither thought they quite had the right mix. When combined with comic and former rocker Noel Paul Stookey they felt the collective voice of the group was perfect. They went on to have a multitude of hits, despite the British invasion: even one written by members of the group that mocked the Beatles and the Rock trend in general.
And when the Beatles tell you
They would like to sell you
They mean exactly what they say
I dig Rock n’ Roll
I could even get it on in that scene
I think I could say something
If you know what I mean
But if I really say it
The radio won’t play it
Unless I lay it
Between the lines.
Ms. Travers, along with Mr. Stookey, and most notably Peter Yarrow, spent many years encouraging, promoting and bringing to the spotlight previously unknown writers. Writers… including Tom Paxton, Eric Anderson, John Denver and Bob Dylan; to mention just four.
Interviewed after the group broke up, she said they would never get back together again. She said the differences were just too great with Stookey’s born again Christianity, Yarrow’s Judaism and her flirting with outright Atheism. But they did get back together in the late 70s and stayed together for many more years until complications from the treatment of leukemia prevented her from touring.
From her gentle take on folk standard Single Girl, to Denver’s Leaving on a Jet Plane, to her almost perfectly trio blended voice, her talents were obvious… despite the fact that Peter and Paul played the only instruments. Using counterpoint arpeggios with different chord arrangements the group found the perfect backup for the three voices and to Mary’s solos. The occasional trio of kazoos didn’t hurt either.
The most unfortunate fact is that Ms. Travers death brings an end to the single longest lasting, most famous, trio in folk music that never had a new member.
What follows is a portion of her Wiki entry…
Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Travers attended the Little Red School House in New York, but was expelled in the 11th grade. She lived in Greenwich Village, New York, attending Elisabeth Irwin High School. While in high school, she joined the “Song Swappers,” which sang backup for Pete Seeger, when the Folkways record company reissued a union song collection, titled Talking Union in 1955. The Song Swappers recorded a total of four albums for Folkways in 1955, all with Mr. Seeger.
Travers never intended to become a professional singer. She said singing had been “a hobby”. Fellow musicians would encourage her to sing, but her shyness prevented it.
The group Peter, Paul and Mary was formed in 1961. The group was popular and known for its renditions of anthems such as “Blowin in the Wind, If I Had a Hammer and Where Have All the Flowers Gone?. The group broke up in 1970, and Travers subsequently pursued a solo career and recorded five albums. The group reformed in 1978, toured extensively and issued many new albums. The group was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999.
Ms. Traverss first three marriages ended in divorce. She is survived by her fourth husband, Ethan Robbins, two daughters, a sister, and two grandchildren. Travers lived in Redding, Connecticut.
In 2005 Travers was diagnosed with leukemia. Although a bone-marrow transplant was apparently successful in beating the disease, Travers died on September 16, 2009 at Danbury Hospital in Connecticut from complications arising from chemotherapy.