BOSTON -- Mary Travers, one part of the folk trio Peter, Paul, and Mary, who used beautiful, tranquil harmonies to convey the angst and turmoil of the Vietnam antiwar 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.
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
"It was, as Mary always was, honest and completely authentic,"
he said. "That's the way she sang, too - honestly and with
Noel "Paul" Stookey, the trio's other member, praised Travers
for her inspiring activism, "especially in her defense of the
"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.
In the book "Positively 4th Street" by David Hajdu, Travers
recalled that Grossman's strategy was to "find a nobody that he
could nurture and make famous."
The budding trio, boosted by the arrangements of Milt Okun,
spent seven months rehearsing in her Greenwich Village apartment
before their 1961 public debut at the Bitter End.
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.
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."
At one point in 1963, three of their albums were in the top six
Billboard best-selling LPs as they became 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." The former won them Grammys for best folk recording
and best performance by a vocal group.