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Folk Icon Mary Travers Dies at 72

5 years ago
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Kids, here's what you missed if you never made it to a Peter, Paul and Mary concert. Because now it is truly, and for all time, too late.

Mary Travers is gone to where the flowers are.

The folk singer rose to fame in the 1960s as part of the iconic trio that included Peter Yarrow and Noel Paul Stookey, whose music was emblematic of the protest movement of that era. Travers died of complications from treatment for leukemia. Look here for more details.

As PPM fans go, I'm not much. I only saw them live two times. But that was enough to know what the rest of you missed. If those were your songs, these were your singers. And everybody else in the hall felt the same way.

I got to see third and maybe fourth generations of kids thrill to Puff the Magic Dragon. Singing along in the audience of a Peter, Paul and Mary concert is as close as I'll ever get to riding in the peloton for a bike race. Even an average (or less) singer was carried along by the wave. And it was likely that the folks on either side of you were handling seriously musical harmonies and syncopations.

But beyond that was the sense of collective mission. For a couple of hours you were part of a movement that shared values along with melodies. While Tom Lerher was right to skewer the ephemeral effect of the "folk song army" (ready, aim, sing!), it's still true that such moments hold the power to inspire.

For all the real turmoil of the politics of the Vietnam War, there was a gentleness in the politics of these songs and their singing that are about as far from current political discourse as one can imagine. They were a model for civil action that did not require violence.

How much did it matter that they sang "Blowin' in the Wind" with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? How much did it matter that so many of their wonderful songs were simple enough for even average guitarists to play (if not nearly as well)? Or that they passed along elements of the great folk music tradition that had nothing to do with politics to another and another generation?

It mattered to lots of us.

You unlucky souls who missed those concerts can easily find their music. Albums and videos are easy to locate and play. And Peter and Paul are apparently working as a duo these days. That's not bad.

But oh, what it was like to have all three of them weave you the sunshine right there in front of you.
Filed Under: Culture

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