Fighting Social Injustice
In the early 1960s rock was still king of the radio airwaves, but people began to take notice of another genre. It was a harmonious, melodious sound, friendly for easy sing-alongs. The new sound was known as either American folk, folk-rock or just folk. The songs were written as poetry, and in truth, many were exactly that. Because of this, the words had to have feeling and meaning, not just nonsense words to fit the tune. On August 18, 1962, a new recording released by a trio of young singers known as Peter, Paul and Mary, became their first hit on Billboard 100, reaching the top 10 for 10 months in a row. The song, written by American folk singer and activist Pete Seeger, “If I Had A Hammer,” expressed the feelings of both black and white civil rights activists and became an anthem for those struggling for freedom. People were becoming more aware of social injustice, and were answering the call to action to defend the freedom of others.
Peter Yarrow, (Noel) Paul Stookey and Mary Travers made up Peter, Paul and Mary. Their voices blended well and they looked the part. You will notice in the photos and the video below, everyone was formally dressed, because they grew up during the 1950s, when dress styles were more conventional than later in the 60s. Mary had long, straight blond hair, Peter and Paul both had nicely trimmed beards and played guitars.
In this time blacks and whites walked shoulder to shoulder in the fight for integration and unbiased schools and employment opportunities. No one I knew was in favor of segregation. The majority of people were demanding civil rights for everyone. The 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington, DC culminated with Martin Luther King Jr.’s ringing, heartfelt speech now known to everyone simply as “I Have A Dream.” People stood together and let their feelings be known that social injustice because of the color of one’s skin was not acceptable. There were performers there that day who believed in the cause; singers Josephine Baker, Mahalia Jackson, Joan Baez and Peter, Paul and Mary, among others. It was a time of electricity and hope, that we could come together as a people. “If I Had A Hammer,” was that hopeful demand, set to music, that we would no longer be a separated America, but would be able to live Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream in reality.
More of Our Favorite Songs
The trio were activists against the war and for social change. Many of their songs reflected this fervor. With their star on the rise, Peter, Paul and Mary went on to record “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?”(written by Pete Seeger) , “Puff The Magic Dragon” (music by Yarrow, words by Yarrow’s friend and fellow student at Cornell, Leonard Lipton) “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” (written by Bob Dylan) “Lemon Tree,”(by 1950s composer and performer Will Holt) “Blowin’ In The Wind,”( byBob Dylan) “This Land Is Your Land,”(by Woody Guthrie) and their biggest hit of all time, “Leavin’ On A Jet Plane,” (written by Bob Denver.) They performed all over the country and were considered the premier folk-rock group of the time. They gave us many hours of musical entertainment and we still sing their songs, just maybe not as well as we did back then. But the old saying goes, “All good things must come to an end,” and Peter, Paul and Mary did.
The Music of Peter, Paul and Mary available here on DVDs from Amazon.
Book about their journey together as Peter, Paul and Mary, written by Peter Yarrow.
70-1978 Breaking Up Is Hard To Do
In 1970 the trio broke up to pursue separate careers. Peter Yarrow was arrested and convicted for making sexual advances toward a 14-year old girl. Years later he would receive a pardon from President Jimmy Carter. Mary Travers continued recording and making public appearances all over the United States. Paul Stookey formed a Christian music group known as Body Works Band. Yarrow co-wrote and produced Mary McGregor’s “Torn Between Two Lovers,” which hit the Number one spot in 1977. He also won an Emmy for three animated TV specials based on “Puff The Magic Dragon.” Between the years shown above, they got back together a few times for concerts for causes; such as McGovern’s run for the Presidency in 1972. They were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999. In 2004, Mary Travers was diagnosed with leukemia and canceled her remaining performances for the year, but received a bone marrow transplant and then continued to perform in 2005. In 2006 they received the Sammy Cahn Lifetime Achievement Award from Songwriters Hall of Fame, They continued a sporadic schedule for the next two years, and then, on September 16, 2009, Mary Travers died of complications following treatment from the chemotherapy for leukemia. Peter Yarrow currently resides in Colorado. (Noel) Paul Stookey is a resident of Maine. And we’re fortunate because we can still enjoy the music of Peter, Paul and Mary.
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