Thursday, September 17, 2009

a generation's voice worth remembering.

She was the tall, blonde sex symbol of the folk-music revival who, along with a couple of goateed guitarists, were the "beat" artists who became the mainstream voice of the 1960s political protest movement.

Mary Allin Travers of the folk group Peter, Paul and Mary was born in Louisville, Kentucky on November 9, 1936. Her parents, both writers, moved her to New York City's Greenwich Village when Mary was just two; she grew up with the folk-music revival developing all around her.

Despite her proximity to the music scene, an honest, earnest voice, and a handful of gigs backing up Pete Seeger, Mary never intended to sing professionally; she apparently was extremely shy and suffered some stage fright. Nevertheless, when struggling folk singer Peter Yarrow showed up at her apartment door - referred by his agent, who was trying to create an updated version of the Weavers with crossover appeal for baby boomers - Mary agreed to join him and suggested Noel Stookey [who adopted his middle name, Paul, for the band's namesake] to complete the trio.

Peter, Paul and Mary rehearsed for months before performing live for the first time. The next year [1962], they released their self-titled first album, which skyrocketed to number one. They soared through the 60s, with hits like "If I Had a Hammer," Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind," and "Puff, the Magic Dragon." The group collected five Grammy Awards while staying true to their beliefs - they were outspoken in their support of the civil-rights and antiwar movements, performing at the 1963 March on Washington and in the voting-rights marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965.

The band broke up in 1970 and Mary subsequently released five solo albums, but none came close to the success of her collaboration with Yarrow and Sookey. So, eventually, the trio drifted back together, reuniting several times over the years for special celebrations and benefits.

Mary was married and divorced three times before marrying Ethan Robbins 18 years ago. He survives her, as do two daughters, a sister, a half-brother and two grandchildren. Mary was diagnosed with leukemia four years ago, and though a bone-marrow transplant seemed to have beat the disease, she died Wednesday of complications from chemotherapy. She was 72.

Here she is, flanked by her two dear friends and musical colleagues - as well as singer John Denver - as they perform PP&M's last #1 hit, "Leaving On a Jet Plane," [which Denver wrote, incidentally] in the year it was released, 1969.

Turns out, she didn't need a jet plane to leave us - just wings to fly away.

1 comment:

Susan K. Morrow said...

Thank you for this loving tribute, Kristen. I grew up on PP&M--there was a little bit of hippie in my parents. I know their greatest hits album by heart. Mary will be missed.