SEPTEMBER 16, 2009 – Grammy Award winning singer/songwriter MARY TRAVERS (b. November 9, 1936 in Louisville, Kentucky) from folk trio Peter, Paul & Mary, passed away at age 72 after having suffered from leukemia since 2004. She was interred at the Umpawaug Cemetery in Danbury.
Born in Louisville, Kentucky, to Robert Travers and Virginia Coigney, both journalists and active organizers for The Newspaper Guild, a trade union, the family moved to NYC’s Greenwich Village in 1938 Travers attended the Little Red School House there, but left in the 11th grade.While in high school, Mary Travers and three schoolmates were given the opportunity to sing background vocals with Seeger for the album “Talking Union.” The group of students became known as the Song Swappers, and recorded three more albums for Folkways in 1955, all with Seeger.
Travers had previously regarded her singing as a hobby and was shy about it, but was encouraged by fellow musicians. Her success as a musician gave Travers the confidence she needed to quit high school in her junior year. When she immediately accepted a role as a folk singer in the Broadway musical “The Next President,” she truly believed she was on her way to stardom. When the show closed only a few months later, however, Travers’s career stalled.The group Peter, Paul and Mary was formed in 1961, and was an immediate success. There were many rumors surrounding the group. They shared a manager, Albert Grossman, with Bob Dylan.In the book “Positively 4th Street” by David Hajdu, Travers recalled that Grossman’s strategy was to “find a nobody that he could nurture and make famous.” The budding trio, boosted by the arrangements of Milt Okun, spent seven months rehearsing in her Greenwich Village apartment before their public debut at the Bitter End.Their beatnik look, a tall blonde flanked by a pair of goateed guitarists, was a part of their initial appeal.
As The New York Times critic Robert Shelton put it not long afterward, “Sex appeal as a keystone for a folk-song group was the idea of the group’s manager … who searched for months for ‘the girl’ until he decided on Miss Travers.”Their success with Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” helped propel Dylan’s “Freewheelin’” album into the Top 30 four months after its release.An Associated press obituary noted: “The group’s first album, “Peter, Paul and Mary” came out in 1962 and immediately scored hits with their versions of “If I Had a Hammer” and “Lemon Tree”.
The former won them Grammys for best folk recording and best performance by a vocal group. Their next album, “Moving”, included the hit tale of innocence lost, “Puff, The Magic Dragon,” which reached #2 on the charts.The trio’s third album, “In the Wind”, which featured three songs by the 22-year-old Bob Dylan including “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” and “Blowin’ in the Wind” reached the top 10, bringing Dylan’s material to a massive audience, the latter shipped 300,000 copies during one two-week period. At one point in 1963, three of their albums were in the top six Billboard best-selling LPs as they became the biggest stars of the folk revival movement.
Their version of “If I Had a Hammer” became an anthem for racial equality, as did Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind,” which they performed at the August 1963 March on Washington.In a 1966 Times interview, Travers said the three worked well together because they respected one another. “There has to be a certain amount of love just in order for you to survive together,” she said. “I think a lot of groups have gone down the tubes because they were not able to relate to one another.”With the advent of the Beatles and Dylan’s switch to electric guitar, the folk boom disappeared. Travers expressed disdain for folk-rock, telling the Chicago Daily News in 1966 that “it’s so badly written. … When the fad changed from folk to rock, they didn’t take along any good writers.”But the trio continued their success, scoring with the tongue-in-cheek single “I Dig Rock and Roll Music,” a gentle parody of the Mamas and the Papas, in 1967 and the John Denver-penned “Leaving on a Jet Plane” two years later.They also continued as boosters for young songwriters, recording numbers written by then-little-known Gordon Lightfoot and Laura Nyro.In 1969, the group earned their final Grammy for “Peter, Paul and Mommy,” which won for best children’s album. The group broke up in 1970, but all launched solo careers. Travers subsequently recorded five albums: “Mary” (1971), “Morning Glory” (1972), “All My Choice”s (1973), “Circles” (1974) and “It’s in Everyone of Us” (1978). The group reunited in 1978, toured extensively (including a performance at a 1978 anti-nuclear benefit organized by Yarrow) and issued many new albums along with a 35th-anniversary album, “Lifelines,” with fellow folkies Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Dave Van Ronk and Seeger.They remained politically active as well, performing in 1995 on the anniversary of the Kent State shootings and performing for California strawberry pickers.
The group was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999.” A boxed set of their music was released in 2004.Travers’ first three marriages ended in divorce. She’d received a bone marrow transplant in April 2005, which apparently slowed the progression of the leukemia, but eventually died at Danbury Hospital in Danbury, Connecticut, from complications arising from chemotherapy. She was survived by her fourth husband, restaurateur Ethan Robbins (married 1991); two daughters, Erika Marshall (born 1960) of Naples, Florida, and Alicia Travers (born 1965) of Greenwich, Connecticut; a sister, Ann Gordon, Ph.D., of Oakland, California; and two grandchildren.Bandmate Peter Yarrow said that in her final months, Travers handled her declining health with bravery and generosity, showing her love to friends and family “with great dignity and without restraint.”“It was, as Mary always was, honest and completely authentic,” he said. “That’s the way she sang, too – honestly and with complete authenticity.” Noel “Paul” Stookey, the trio’s other member, praised Travers for her inspiring activism, “especially in her defense of the defenseless. I am deadened and heartsick beyond words to consider a life without Mary Travers and honored beyond my wildest dreams to have shared her spirit and her career.”In their 50-year career together, Travers, Stookey and Yarrow won five Grammys, created 13 Top 40 hits, and saw eight of their albums go gold and five turn platinum. The group also became the voice of a generation of human rights advocates and war protestors.