Social Justice Guided Mary Travers' Music

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Paul Stookey, Bob Dylan, Mary Travers, Stevie Wonder and Peter Yarrow

hide captionMary Travers (center) and other stars perform Jan. 20, 1986, during the "All Star Celebration Honoring Martin Luther King Jr." at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. From left are Paul Stookey, Bob Dylan, Travers, Stevie Wonder and Peter Yarrow.

See A Photo Gallery Of Mary Travers' Life And Career
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Mary Travers is flanked by Noel Paul Stookey (left) and Peter Yarrow i i

hide captionMary Travers is flanked by Noel Paul Stookey (left) and Peter Yarrow on June 15, 2006, at the Songwriters Hall of Fame Awards Induction Ceremony in New York.

Jennifer Graylock/AP
Mary Travers is flanked by Noel Paul Stookey (left) and Peter Yarrow

Mary Travers is flanked by Noel Paul Stookey (left) and Peter Yarrow on June 15, 2006, at the Songwriters Hall of Fame Awards Induction Ceremony in New York.

Jennifer Graylock/AP

Mary Travers became a singer at a time when there was no shortage of things to sing about.

Along with Peter Yarrow and Noel Paul Stookey, Travers participated in civil rights marches and Vietnam War protests. They helped provide a soundtrack to the times that catapulted Peter, Paul and Mary from coffee houses to the Billboard charts.

Travers, who died Wednesday at 72, was raised on folk music. She grew up in Greenwich Village in the 1940s where she heard her parent's recordings of The Weavers and Pete Seeger.

In a 1983 NPR interview, Travers explained how Peter, Paul and Mary tried to move the folk tradition forward.

"When we first began to sing together, we attempted to do some of the chestnuts. But to attempt to do them in a more complex and more musical form as opposed to just trying to take a straight three-part harmony and a lot of gusto and energy," she said.

The group had 12 hit singles. One of them, "If I Had A Hammer," became an anthem for the civil rights movement.

Another, "Puff the Magic Dragon," became an anthem of a different sort.

Peter, Paul and Mary put a Bob Dylan song on the charts for the first time and introduced the work of other new folk singers and songwriters — like John Denver, whose "Leaving on a Jet Plane" became a hit when the group released it.

The trio broke up in 1970 but got back together eight years later. Peter Yarrow told NPR why in 1983.

"When we got together and we sang on stage, it was very clear that we had great meaning to each other for the audience and that we missed each other," he said.

This time they were singing about apartheid and deadly violence in Central America.

In 1986, Travers said the principle of mixing social justice with music guided her career.

"I think the thing that is so special about folk music is that it is a reaffirmation of the celebration of the human spirit and human life," she said.

Travers was diagnosed with leukemia in 2004, but Peter, Paul and Mary continued to perform off and on until earlier this year.

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