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Social Justice Guided Mary Travers' Music

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Social Justice Guided Mary Travers' Music

Music News

Social Justice Guided Mary Travers' Music

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Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary has died. Hers was the crystalline voice of a group that did more than most to put folk music on the pop charts of the early 1960s. Their most famous songs float across the years - "Puff, the Magic Dragon," "Blowing in the Wind," "Leaving on a Jet Plane." When she died of cancer at her home in Connecticut, Mary Travers was 72. NPR's Felix Contreras has this appreciation.

FELIX CONTRERAS: 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.

(Soundbite of song, "Blowing in the Wind")

PETER, PAUL and MARY (Music Group): (Singing) How many roads must a man walk down before they call him a man?

CONTRERAS: Mary Travers 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.

Ms. MARY TRAVERS (Singer): 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 a more musical form, as opposed to just trying to take a straight three-part harmony and a lot of gusto and energy.

(Soundbite of song, "Cruel War")

PETER, PAUL and MARY: (Singing) The cruel war is raging, Johnny has to fight. I want to be with him from morning 'til night.

CONTRERAS: Peter, Paul and Mary had 12 hit singles. One of them - "If I Had a Hammer" - became an anthem for the civil rights movement. Another became an anthem of a different sort.

(Soundbite of song, "Puff, the Magic Dragon")

PETER, PAUL and MARY: (Singing) Puff, the Magic Dragon, lived by the sea and frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee.

CONTRERAS: Peter, Paul and Mary put a Bob Dylan song on the chart for the first time and introduced a work of other new folk singers and song writers like John Denver.

(Soundbite of song, "Leaving on a Jet Plane")

PETER, PAUL AND MARY: (Singing) Kiss me and smile for me, tell me that you'll wait for me, hold me like you'll never let me go. I'm leaving on a jet plane. I don't know when I'll be back again.

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

Mr. PETER YARROW (Singer): When we got together and we sang onstage it was very clear that we had great meaning to each other for the audience and that we missed each other.

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

(Soundbite of song, "El Salvador")

PETER, PAUL and MARY: (Singing) And kill the people to set them free. Who put this price on their liberty? Don't you think it's time to leave El Salvador?

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

Ms. TRAVERS: I think the thing that's so special about folk music is it is a reaffirmation of the celebration of the human spirit and human life.

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

Felix Contreras, NPR News.

(Soundbite of song, "Follow Me")

PETER, PAUL and MARY: (Singing) It's by far the hardest thing I've doneā€¦

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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