Mary Travers, one-third of the legendary folk trio [artist id="3117836"]Peter, Paul & Mary[/artist], died on Wednesday (September 16) in a Connecticut hospital at age 72 after a long battle with leukemia.
With her golden hair and high, clear voice, Travers was the lone female voice in a group whose work helped popularize the folk-music scene of the early 1960s, singing on such landmark songs as “If I Had a Hammer,” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?,” “Leaving on a Jet Plane” and “Puff (the Magic Dragon).”
According to the group’s official Web site, Travers had successfully recovered from leukemia following a bone marrow transplant and succumbed to the side effects of one of her chemotherapy treatments.
“In her final months, Mary handled her declining health in the bravest, most generous way imaginable. She never complained,” wrote longtime singing partner Peter Yarrow in a statement, saying the love she showed for him, their partner, Noel Paul Stookey, and her husband, Ethan, “poured out with great dignity and without restraint. It was, as Mary always was, honest and completely authentic. That’s the way she sang, too; honestly and with complete authenticity. I believe that, in the most profound of ways, Mary was incapable of lying, as a person, and as an artist. That took great courage, and Mary was always equal to the task.”
Alongside Stookey and Yarrow, Travers provided the key ingredient in a rich three-part harmony that helped transform a then-young Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” into a civil-rights anthem, exposing Dylan to a larger audience. During their heyday, the trio were known as much for their political activism as for their songs, appearing at the 1963 civil-rights march on Washington and at many demonstrations against the Vietnam War.
“She was obviously the sex appeal of that group,” folk historian Elijah Wald told The New York Times. “And that group was the sex appeal of the movement.”
The group’s 1962 debut, Peter, Paul and Mary, reached #1 on the charts and eventually sold more than 2 million copies, thanks to such hits as “Lemon Tree” and “If I Had a Hammer,” written by folk icon Pete Seeger.
Born Mary Allin Travers in Louisville, Kentucky, on November 9, 1936, Travers moved to New York with her parents when she was 2 years old. The Times noted that unlike most of the other folk musicians who emerged from the Greenwich Village scene in the late 1950s and early ’60s, Travers actually came from the neighborhood, where she’d attended progressive and private schools in the area and grew up around folk music clubs and performers.
She began singing with the folk group the Song Swappers in the mid-1950s, backed up Seeger on a collection of union songs in 1955, and then joined Yarrow and Stookey in 1960. Manager Albert Grossman put the trio together in an effort to create an updated version of the famed folk group the Weavers. After debuting in 1961, the trio were an instant hit and were a staple on the folk scene for much of the decade until disbanding in 1970.
Travers set out on a solo career, releasing five albums in the 1970s that never reached the group’s commercial peaks and continuing with her commitment to political and social causes.
After 50 years of friendship and musical partnership, Yarrow wrote, “I have no idea what it will be like to have no Mary in my world, in my life or on stage to sing with. But I do know there will always be a hole in my heart, a place where she will always exist that will never be filled by any other person. However painful her passing is, I am forever grateful for Mary and her place in my life.”