Her trio mixed music with political activism
BOSTON – Mary Travers, who as one-third of the hugely popular 1960s folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary helped popularize such tunes as “Puff (The Magic Dragon)” and “If I Had a Hammer,” died in a Connecticut hospital Wednesday after battling leukemia for several years. She was 72.
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.”
Noel “Paul” Stookey, the trio’s other member, praised Travers for her inspiring activism, “especially in her defense of the defenseless.”
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.
It wasn’t until she met up with Yarrow and Stookey that Travers would taste success on her own.
The budding trio spent seven months rehearsing in her Greenwich Village apartment before their 1961 public debut at the Bitter End.
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 August 1963 March on Washington.
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.
With the advent of the Beatles and Dylan’s switch to electric guitar, the folk boom disappeared.
But the trio continued their success, scoring with the tongue-in-cheek single “I Dig Rock and Roll Music,” a gentle parody of the Mamas and the Papas, in 1967 and the John Denver-penned “Leaving on a Jet Plane” two years later.
Over the years they enjoyed several reunions, including a performance at a 1978 anti-nuclear benefit organized by Yarrow. A boxed set of their music was released in 2004.