Thursday, September 17, 2009

Featured Artist: Mary Travers

The world woke up to some sad news this morning...

Mary Travers of the Peter Paul And Mary trio passed away yesterday of complications from chemotherapy following treatment for leukemia at Danbury Hospital in Connecticut. She was 72 and had been living in Redding, Connecticut. Mary's first three marriages ended in divorce. She is survived by her fourth husband, Ethan Robbins, two daughters, Erika Marshall and Alicia Travers, half-brother John Travers of Hollywood, California, along with a sister and two grandchildren.

Mary was born on November 7, 1937 in Louisville, Kentucky to Robert Travers and Virginia Coigney, both of whom were journalists and were active organizers for a trade union called The Newspaper Guild. In 1938, the family moved to Greenwich Village where she attended the Little Red School House. She dropped out of school in the eleventh grade to pursue her singing career. While still in high school, she was a member of The Song Swappers who sang backup for Pete Seeger on a collection of union songs on Folkways Records called Talking Union. The Song Swappers with Pete Seeger recorded four albums for Folkways in 1955. Mary, who was originally shy about her singing hobby, was encouraged to stick with it by her fellow musicians. She became a chorus singer in a short-lived Broadway production called The Next President in 1957.

Peter Paul and Mary, one of the most successful folk groups of the 1960's, consisted of Peter Yarrow, Noel "Paul" Stookey, and Mary Travers. In 1961, the group's manager, Albert Grossman, set out to create a folk supergroup, bringing together "a tall blonde (Mary Travers), a funny guy (Paul Stookey), and a good looking guy (Peter Yarrow)."

The group first appeared on stage in 1961 at The Bitter End coffee house located at 147 Bleecker Street at La Guardia Place in the Greenwich Village section of New York City, which is the same neighborhood where Mary grew up with her family as a child. When Bob Dylan first arrived in New York City on January 24, 1961, his first subway ride took him to the Cafe Wha? in Greenwich Village where he began performing nightly. Wouldn't you just love to jump in a time machine and go back there to sit and listen to the wonderful music being performed every night at these clubs?

The trio's debut album, Peter Paul And Mary, was issued in 1962 and included the songs 500 Miles, Lemon Tree, If I Had A Hammer (The Hammer Song), and Where Have All The Flowers Gone. It was a top ten album for nearly a year, and stayed on the top one hundred albums list for over three years.

The group supposedly made their first television appearance on the PM East talk show on MetroMedia in New York which was hosted by Mike Wallace and Joyce Davidson. But, unfortunately, no recordings from that show are available. If you know of any recordings of this show, audio or video, please contact me!

By 1963, the trio had issued two more top-ten albums. Peter Yarrow and Leonard Lipton wrote one of the group's hit singles, Puff The Magic Dragon, while both were attending Cornell University together in 1959. The trio sang If I Had A Hammer at the 1963 March on Washington where Reverend Martin Luther King Junior delivered his famous "I Have A Dream" speech. They scored another big hit single with Bob Dylan's Blowin' In The Wind, while also covering other Bob Dylan tunes like The Times They Are a-Changin', Don't Think Twice It's Alright, and When The Ship Comes In.

The trio recorded Leaving On A Jet Plane (a song written by John Denver, who had replaced Chad Mitchell in the Chad Mitchell Trio) in 1967 for their Album 1700. It became their only number one chart hit, and last chart appearance, two years later in December 1969. Day Is Done, a song they recorded live at New York's Carnegie Hall on March 8, 1969, was actually their last recording to hit the top 100 when it climbed to #21 in June of 1969.

The trio broke up in 1970 to pursue solo careers. Paul Stookey managed one hit in 1971 with The Wedding Song (There Is Love). The song was written for Yarrow's marriage to Marybeth McCarthy, niece of senator Eugene McCarthy. It has been an anthem at wedding parties ever since. As a solo performer, Mary Travers scored just one minor chart hit, Follow Me, in 1971.

The group reunited in 1978 for a concert to protest nuclear energy, which brought them back to touring and recording albums again. They were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999. They were activists for peace in Central America, and also well known for supporting the peace and social justice movement in America, which won them the Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience on September 1, 1990.

In 2004, Travers was diagnosed with leukemia, leading to the cancellation of the remaining tour dates for that year. She received a bone marrow transplant. She and the rest of the trio resumed their concert tour on December 9, 2005 with a holiday performance at Carnegie Hall. They received the Sammy Cahn Lifetime Achievement Award from Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006. The trio sang in Mitchell, South Dakota, for the George and Eleanor McGovern Library and Center for Leadership dedication concert on October 5, 2006. The group was forced to cancel several dates of their summer 2007 tour when Mary took longer than expected to recover from back surgery. She later had to undergo a second surgery, further postponing the tour.

As my tribute to Mary, I present a song the trio recorded for their third album, In The Wind, in 1963. This song never appeared on a single. It's a song that's been known by at least three different titles! All My Trials started out as a Caribbean lullaby which was first recorded in 1956 by Billy Faier on the Riverside label. It was covered in that same year by Bob Gibson as Bahamian Lullaby, also on Riverside. Glenn Yarbrough recorded it as All My Sorrows in 1957. Harry Belafonte did a version of the song in 1958. The Kingston Trio did their take on All My Sorrows in 1959. It was also recorded by The Chordettes in 1960, Pete Seeger, The Shadows, and Joan Baez in 1961, Anita Carter in 1962, Odetta, The Searchers, and The Highwaymen in 1963, Peter And Gordon and Dick And DeeDee in 1964, The Seekers in 1965, The Status Quo and The Four Pennies in 1966, The Cookies in 1967, and many more. It was brought back in 1971 by arranger Mickey Newbury for Elvis Presley's American Trilogy, sung as a medley along with Dixie and The Battle Hymn Of The Republic. Ray Stevens covered the song shortly afterward. Nana Mouskouri did her take on it in 1986. Nick Drake and his sister Gabrielle sang the song as a duet. Paul McCartney had a minor UK hit with the song in 1990. There were also versions by Lindsay Buckingham in 1992 and Roger McGuinn in 2002.

Please enjoy this sample of All My Trials by Peter Yarrow, Paul Stookey, and the late Mary Travers. We will all miss you, Mary.

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