As part of the New York Choral Society, I was fortunate to have performed with Mary Travers (and Peter Yarrow and Noel Paul Stookey) a couple of dozen times in the late ’80s and early ’90s. I did a week on Broadway, a PBS special that ran forever during Pledge Weeks, a Donahue show, and more than a couple of performances in Carnegie Hall. They are some of my fondest memories.
Mary Travers was by then well past her ingenue years and well into motherhood and later, grandmotherhood. She relished it. It was easy to see the dynamic of the group; the things that made Peter Paul & Mary work so well, the things about each of them that made the others crazy, and the ways that they adapted to each other as life progressed.
But what was also plain about them was the depth of their commitment to each other and their causes.
But what was also plain about them was the depth of their commitment to each other and their causes. At this distance of time, it’s a little easy to mock the Folk Revival movement as white-bread (and white-skin) JFK-era cure-the-world liberalism. But that forgets the power of the words. PP&M hardly wrote all their music, but without them, it’s unlikely that Bob Dylan or Tom Paxton would have gotten quite the wide audience that they did. They sang about freedom and justice in simple words and with simple musical arrangements, at a time when civil rights and voting rights were by no means assured.
And for the last couple of decades, when political passion and their style of musical truth-telling were out of fashion? They kept on. They weren’t done — not that they ever really could be done, you understand. There’s always going to be injustice.
Mary had been ill for some time, and it had been clear that every holiday concert with the NYCS was a gift. I have an opera hat of Noel’s, which he pitched ecstatically into the chorus at the end of one of the concerts. It was a prize before, and it’s even more of one now.
If you never saw them, you really missed something. And if you did, you’ll know what a loss Mary Travers’s death is.