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This article by Kevin L. Carter was prepared for the April 26, 2006
issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Peter Paul & Mary Still Saving the World
For Peter Yarrow, one-third of Peter, Paul and Mary, the past year has
been full of upheaval and importance for the legendary folk ensemble.
"This has been the most remarkable year," Yarrow says in a phone
interview from Manhattan. "It has been a very important year."
Important, he says, because the group has, for now, survived a huge
scare and has been somewhat reborn as a touring ensemble.
The upheaval, painful to anyone who knows the words to "Leaving on a
Jet Plane" by heart, stems from the health of the beloved Mary
Travers, who has been suffering from acute myelogenous leukemia since
2004. She underwent chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant, and at
the end of last year – December 9, 2005 – Peter, Paul and Mary came
back into the public spotlight with a packed concert at Carnegie Hall.
It was a huge event, not just for music fans and fans of the trio, but
for Peter, Paul, and Mary themselves.
"It was very important, because that was the date that Mary had set
for herself, the date she said she wanted to be (well enough to
perform). When we got up on stage at Carnegie Hall, it was the first
time (since the diagnosis) that everyone had seen Mary," Yarrow says.
"She looked fabulous. You could just feel the surge of caring and
And then the trio began singing.
"(The audience) just exploded with joy and affirmation," he says. "The
entire ordeal of Mary’s illness has just been a sow’s ear to a silk
Yarrow, Travers and Noel "Paul" Stookey will launch their tour at the
State Theater in New Brunswick on Friday, April 28. It will be one of
seven concerts the group will play through the end of the summer.
Leukemia has certainly changed Mary Travers’ life. Now 70, the soprano
with the strong, sweet voice who was known for her long, blonde hair,
lost that hair and is only now growing it back. She also lost more
than 60 pounds through her ordeal. As of now, she has not shown any
signs of the cancer’s recurrence, and Yarrow says that she is
continuing to gain strength and health as her immune system recovers
from the cancer and the draining medical procedures that were required
to fight it.
"This past year, we had to live with the knowledge that we might have
lost Mary. It was just so inspiring to see how she fought the good
fight," Yarrow says. "She became this incredibly dedicated, courageous
From the time Travers’ leukemia was disclosed, Yarrow says, the group
received more than 10,000 E-mails from fans and well-wishers. "It
showed us just how much people cared for her and loved her. It gave
her a sense of her own importance in their lives, because none of us
really knows how we have affected people in our lives. The time you
find out how people truly feel is when the chips are down."
The E-mails, which were compiled in a 400-page book by the group’s
webmaster, Yarrow says, "were extraordinarly moving. If someone says
`You don’t know me, but you have affected my life, I wish you courage
and strength, and we need you and Peter and Paul,’ well, that is just
The trio has made a couple of relatively minor concessions to Travers’
new fragility, however. They will not travel beyond reasonable driving
distance of New York, where all three are based. They had been
performing about 25 shows a year before Mary’s illness; that number
has diminished somewhat, says Yarrow. Also, the group has in the past
come out after shows to meet fans, and they have often allowed select
friends to meet them backstage as well. The backstage visits have been
curtailed, and Peter and Paul will come out and visit, but not Mary.
Not yet, until her immune system recovers some more.
As Yarrow pointed out, Peter, Paul and Mary have now been together for
45 years, and if he had it his way – if he had a hammer – they’ll be
together for another 45. At least.
Peter, Paul and Mary, who have won five Grammy Awards, are one of the
most important folk ensembles in the history of American music. They
were one of the first groups to integrate social commentary and,
later, activism, into their repertoire.
With hits such as "Puff (the Magic Dragon)," "Leaving on a Jet Plane,"
"If I Had A Hammer," as well as a cover of Bob Dylan’s "Blowin’ in the
Wind," all of which garnered them unprecedented pop success for a folk
group, the group became known as the face of the folk genre, as well
as one of many artistic spokespersons for 1960s political
The group also served as sounding board and musical university for
many young (at that time) songwriters such as Laura Nyro, John Denver,
and Gordon Lightfoot.
The group was present at the 1963 March on Washington and other
civil-rights demonstrations, and it was prominently involved in
political campaigns for Democratic candidates for President and other
Even after their star dimmed somewhat as the ’70s rolled on, Peter,
Paul, and Mary continued to lend their cultural capital to
environmental campaigns and other liberal issues. Yarrow, 67, who
received a bachelors degree in psychology from Cornell University in
1959, first became interested in folk music in the 1950s, after
hearing a concert of the Weavers, the seminally important group whose
format and successes turned out to be a launch pad and perpetual
reference point for Yarrow and his peers.
He continues to be involved in social causes. He was involved,
somewhat peripherally, with the John Kerry presidential campaign two
But his biggest project, outside of his plans to help produce a new
Peter, Paul and Mary record with arrangements by longtime musical
director Bob DeCormier, as well as a possible television special, is
"Operation Respect is an educational program that addresses the roots
of many problems in our society, such as racism, neglect, and the
inequalities between men and women," Yarrow says. "All of these things
come from the bottom of this pyramid of hate we have."
Yarrow is very proud of the group’s accomplishments over the years,
and he is proud of its longevity. "We are the only group that has
stayed together this long with its original members, playing its
original repertoire," he says.
It hasn’t been easy. "Being in a group like this is like being in a
marriage – don’t kid yourself. You have to have a lot of humility, you
have to be able to forgive, understand, and compromise. You have to be
equally respectful and able to negotiate, to be open to hear different
points of view. Groups break up all the time. To be able to stay
together for any amount of time is a very, very demanding job."
Peter, Paul, and Mary, Friday, April 28, 8 p.m., State Theater, 15
Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick. The legendary folk trio perform the
debut concert of their spring 2006 tour. They have logged 45 years
together, have won five Grammys, produced five top 10 albums, and 13
Top 40 hits, of which six were gold and three were platinum. $35 to
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