by David White
19 October 2009
Mary Travers, one-third of the hugely popular and influential 1960s
folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary, died on September 16 after treatment
for leukaemia. She was 72.
She joined forces with goateed guitarists Peter Yarrow and Noel Paul
Stookey in 1961 and was, with Joan Baez, the most prominent female
folk music artist of the time.
Peter, Paul and Mary helped write the soundtrack for the great social
movements of that tumultuous decade for civil rights, women's
rights, ending the Vietnam War. Their songs inspired millions of
people to spread a message of peace and justice, and sparked
awareness of the need for social and political change.
Travers' soulful alto voice was instrumental in the group's success.
They won five Grammy Awards and had 12 top 40 Billboard hits in the
1960s. The trio took folk music into the mainstream, at a time when
the songs of the Weavers, Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan were relatively
unknown. Their hit versions of "If I Had a Hammer" and Dylan's
"Blowin' in the Wind" became anthems for civil rights and racial equality.
They marched with Martin Luther King in Alabama, and performed at the
August 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, when King made
his historic "I Have a Dream" speech. Travers was arrested in 1984
while protesting against the apartheid regime in South Africa.
Except for a recess in the 1970s, the trio performed and toured for
almost 50 years until earlier this year. They toured Australia
several times and held many concerts to support human and civil
rights, unionists, peace, justice, minority rights, environmental and
Peter, Paul and Mary's music defined a generation. Their enduring
messages have brought joy and inspiration to people of different
cultures on every continent. Countless singers and musicians were
inspired to start their musical journeys by Travers. They helped
boost the careers of many young songwriters like Gordon Lightfoot and
For those who didn't experience those decades it's difficult to
appreciate that their music was influential in inspiring people to
get involved in social and political causes.
Without the new media forms we now have, music then played a much
bigger role in people's lives and in framing social change and attitudes.
It's fair to say Travers was the very heart, soul, and spirit of the
group and what they represented. She brought an edginess, urgency and
tenderness to their performances and recordings, which included much
material that was non-political.
Millions on every continent who never attended a Peter, Paul and Mary
concert felt that she was a part of their family, as the group's
music and its messages were passed down from one generation to the next.
Her passing represents a farewell to much more than just a gifted
artist and a musical legend. Another piece of an era has been lost,
but her music will ensure that she will never be forgotten.
We must now pick up the torch that Mary left for us. We must continue
to spread the enduring messages of peace, equality and justice. We
need to share the spirit of her songs and life with others
everywhere. We must if we want this planet to survive.