Wednesday, September 16, 2009

In Memoriam - Mary Travers

Mary Travers has died. It's hard to say "Mary" without including "Peter, Paul and ..." The trio was a fixture on the folk music scene in the early 1960s, and probably best known for their thought provoking music. Mary Travers died today 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."

"It was, as Mary always was, honest and completely authentic," he said. "That's the way she sang, too; honestly and with complete authenticity."

Noel "Paul" Stookey, the trio's other member, praised Travers for her inspiring activism, "especially in her defense of the defenseless."

"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 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.

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. [...]

Over the years they enjoyed several reunions, including a performance at a 1978 anti-nuclear benefit organized by Yarrow and a 35th anniversary album, "Lifelines," with fellow folkies Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Dave Van Ronk and Seeger. A boxed set of their music was released in 2004.

They remained politically active as well, performing at the 1995 anniversary of the Kent State shootings and performing for California strawberry pickers.

Travers had undergone a successful bone marrow transplant to treat her leukemia and was able to return to performing after that.

"It was like a miracle," Travers told The Associated Press in 2006. "I'm just feeling fabulous. What's incredible is someone has given your life back. I'm out in the garden today. This time last year I was looking out a window at a hospital." She also said she told the marrow donor "how incredibly grateful I was."
Travers is survived by her husband and two daughters. Condolences to her family and friends. Rest in PEACE Mary Travers.


jason bakely said...

Awe that sucks...

Amy said...

I love their music. I offer my prayers and condolences to the family.