Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary, R.I.P.: Remembering a folk-rock great

It never stops, does it? Last night brought the news that Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary had become, at age 72, yet another beloved entertainer gone too soon. Not a complete surprise — Travers was diagnosed with leukemia in 2004 — but very sad nonetheless.

Peter, Paul and Mary played a crucial role in helping the folk-music scene become a mass popular movement in the early 1960s. They couldn’t have done it without Mary Travers’ clear, expressive vocals. A gifted interpreter of others’ songs, she was the principal reason why the trio’s covers of Pete Seeger’s “If I Had A Hammer” and Bob Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind” were arguably better-loved than the originals. Harmonizing on silly kid’s tunes like the classic “Puff the Magic Dragon” one minute, playing for social justice at the historic March on Washington another — both in the year 1963 — Travers, along with bandmates Peter Yarrow and Noel Paul Stookey, epitomized something about that transformative era.

On a personal note, I was raised on Peter, Paul and Mary’s music in the 1980s. Making folk music for children was another key aspect of their legacy, from 1969’s Peter, Paul and Mommy to 1993’s Peter, Paul and Mommy, Too concert sequel, ensuring that a younger generation is missing Mary today, too. My lifelong folkie mom sent over the vintage clip you’ll find below of PP&M performing the standard “500 Miles.” Listen to Travers’ mournful, beautiful voice in this song and see if you can make it through without tearing up. Then share your memories of Mary Travers in the comments section.

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Comments (167 total) Add your comment
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  • Stefanie

    RIP Mary.

    • Al R.

      I was a jazz guitarist and a contemporary of PP&M. A piece of my musical life died with her. Her music will outlive all of us.

  • meleanna

    I grew up listening to PPM as well. I learned to sing harmony and stand up for what I believe in, all from her clear vocals and passion about life. I will miss her.

  • Mamma Mia

    I don’t have to listen to the selection to hear the voice and get the chills.I remember singing along to the record when I was a young teenager. Mary Travers was blessed with her voice and blessed us all by sharing it.

  • Reece Franklin

    Went to two concerts of PPM with my wife over the last 15 years, and had the pleasure of meeting Paul Stookey on a red eye to Chicago back in 1996. We talked about him, Peter, and when he talked about Mary, his eyes lit up. What a great trio. Now what do we do? think it’s over for their touring with just the two guys

  • Beaver Cleaver

    Not a bad group, for liberals.

    • Johnson

      Not a bad name for a fool!

      • Beaver Cleaver

        How’s you alleged johnson, retromingent?

  • Steve

    RIP, Mary.

    To Warner Brothers: how about releasing on CD Mary’s wonderful solo albums from the early ’70s “Morning Glory” and “Circles”? It was so nice to finally hear “Mary” on CD last year.

    • nomoretrolls

      Oh yes, how I wish all 5 of her solo albums (4 on Warners, 1 on Chrysalis) would appear on cd. I try to keep on top of these things, but I had no idea her first album, “Mary” had been released last year and now I find that it has already gone out of print. Her singing is like comfort food for me and has helped to sustain me since I first heard “I Had a Hammer” on the radio so many years ago.

      • tlcroft

        Try the Ladyslipper catalog–if it’s still around, that is. As I remember, they had albums by EVERY female musician out there–including old albums.

  • Molly

    Please thank your “folkie mom” for this beautiful clip. I am another folkie mom, but had never seen such a young Mary in performance. She and the group shaped so much of our youth and beyond.

    Travel well, Mary

    • Shaurya

      Hi Eva,I’ll write something later today. However, if you are feneilg logical, there are two things to notice.(1) Nothing = not anything (2) In standard English (what we do here) two negatives do NOT make a negative.(I love Spanish. No se9. No se9 nada. No se9 nada nunca. But we do this differently in my language.)

  • Tuscan Chef

    Like many I grew up with PP&M as I am part of their generation. I had an opportunity to sit in with them with my guitar and banjo and jam for hours after a concert in the mid-west. It was beyond belief for me that I had just played toe to toe with MM&M and not a recording or picture of the session. I do however carry that moment in my heart as a high point in my life. We became acquaintances, perhaps a little more and kept in touch over the years. People with Mary’s directness and honesty are a rare occurrence in live and we can not afford to lose them. But in her we lost the leader of honesty. She will be missed by us all each in our own special way. RIP Mary.

  • Casey

    My mother had the P,P&M records and I used to listen to them as a kid. I recently pulled those out to give them a listen again, I had forgotten how great they were. RIP Mary, thanks for the music.

  • Kathleen

    As a child we never owned a Beatles or Rolling Stones albums, but we had every PPM vinyl made. There was no such thing as karaoke in those days so my older sister would replay the songs until she got all the lyrics down so we could have our own hootenannies. Thank you, Mary, for all those wonderful hours of letting us sing our hearts out along with you.

    • Princess

      Ma este megne9ztem a weboldale1t e9s meatallgathgm a feltf6ltf6tt dalokat. Nagyon kellemes este9t szerzett, rendkedvfcl jf3k a dalok, nagyon tetszettek. Gratule1lok! A Barnus meg egyenesen szenze1cif3s ! Nagyon jf3l e9nekelt. Mindkettőjfcknek tove1bbi sok sikert kedve1nok.Szf6mf6rei Tiborne9

  • Matt

    A phenomenal and essential part of not only musical history but of history itself.
    Than you, Mary Travers for sharing your mind, body and soul

  • J Ray Kimball

    Peter Paul and Mommy is loved by my family.
    Too Much Of Nuthin is my favorite Dylan cover by any band.

  • NWAires

    Peter, Paul and Mary were my first concert. I saw them in San Francisco in 1968. Such moving music. It touched my soul. RIP Mary and thank you!

  • Ned Hoagland

    I love PP&M music ever since the
    60’s,but I know for a fact that John Denver did not write Iam Leaving on a Jet Plane.Thanks for
    writing it Skip.

  • kathleen cairns

    I too loved PP&M. A decade ago I drove from LA to San Luis Obispo with a two-year-old in the back seat. The only thing that calmed him down was “Puff the Magic Dragon” played over and over. Thanks for this post.

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