After rehearsing for seven months in Travers' three flight walk-up apartment, Peter, Paul and Mary premiered at The Bitter End in 1961, and then played at other seminal Folk clubs like the Chicago Gate of Horn and San Francisco's Hungry I. Following their appearance at the famed Blue Angel nightclub in New York, they embarked on a rigorous touring schedule that lasted nearly ten straight years. 1962 marked the trio's debut on Warner Brothers Records with "Peter, Paul and Mary" which brought Folk music to the vast American public and to the top of the charts. As Billboard magazine noted, "It became an instant classic. The album was in the Top 10 for ten months, remained in the Top 20 for two years, and did not drop off the Hot 100 album chart until three-and-a-half years after its release." The trio's first release from the LP was "Lemon Tree", which rose to #35 on the Hot 100 during the Summer of 1962. The follow-up, "If I Had A Hammer", reached #10 and was embraced as an anthem of the civil rights movement.
This success marked the beginning of an incredibly influential time for Peter, Paul and Mary, and for the contemporary urban Folk tradition which they personified. In the third week of November, 1963, they had three albums in the Billboard Top 6. Also in '63, their recording of "Puff, The Magic Dragon", written by Peter Yarrow and Leonard Lipton, won the hearts of millions while climbing to #2 in America. That song was actually the center of controversy when it was first released. At the time, the drug culture was making headlines and some radio stations mistook the lyrics and refused to play the record. Years later, Peter Yarrow laughed as he explained that the song is the story of a little boy growing up, and had nothing at all to do with marijuana. Next up was their recording of "Blowin' In The Wind", which helped introduce a fellow Village songwriter named Bob Dylan when it also went to Billboard's #2 spot. A third Top Ten hit that year, "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" went to #9 that Fall, and was followed by "Stewball", which rose to #35. The hit records continued with "Tell It On The Mountain" (#33 in 1964), "For Lovin' Me" (#30 in 1965), and a return to the Top Ten with "I Dig Rock And Roll Music" (#9 in 1967). "Too Much Of Nothing" reached #35 during the Summer Of Love and "Day Is Done" came in at #21 in the early Summer of 1969.
It was Folk music that was to spark the imagination and the passion of a generation intent on social change. But Peter, Paul and Mary did more in those times than chronicle events, they lived their songs. They stood with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma and in Washington. They were deeply involved in the anti-Vietnam War crusade, consistently performing at demonstrations, fund-raisers and teach-ins. In 1969, Yarrow co-organized the March On Washington, and Peter, Paul and Mary sang before the half-million people who had come together for that landmark event. Later that same year the trio would have their biggest U.S. chart success with the John Denver written tune, "Leaving On A Jet Plane", which went all the way to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 during a fifteen week stay on the Top 40.
By 1970, Peter, Paul and Mary had earned eight Gold and five Platinum albums. That same year, needing a watershed period for personal growth, the group disbanded and each member began pursuing individual interests. Stookey's spiritual commitment led him to pen "The Wedding Song", leading to eight solo recordings including a Grammy nomination and the creation of a multi-media organization that was involved in a variety of children's computer, television and music projects. Mary Travers recorded five albums, produced, wrote and starred in a BBC television series, and lectured and sang across the country. Peter concentrated on political activism and solo music projects, and also co-wrote and produced the 1976, #1 hit, "Torn Between Two Lovers" for Mary McGregor. His three animated specials for CBS Television, based on "Puff, The Magic Dragon", earned Yarrow an Emmy nomination.
1970 was also a dark year for Peter Yarrow, as he was charged with taking improper liberties with a 14-year-old girl who had gone with her 17-year-old sister to Yarrow's hotel room, seeking an autograph. The 14-year-old resisted, but did not call for help. Yarrow later plead guilty and served three months of a one-to-three-year prison sentence. He apologized for the incident, saying, "It was an era of real indiscretion and mistakes by categorically male performers. I was one of them. I got nailed. I was wrong. I'm sorry for it." Eleven years later he would receive a presidential pardon from Jimmy Carter, but the incident continued to haunt him throughout the rest of his career. Several appearances were canceled and invitations withdrawn when the conviction was brought to light.
Not unexpectedly, it was an important cause which reunited Peter, Paul and Mary in 1978. Peter was helping to organize Survival Sunday, an anti-nuclear benefit at the Hollywood Bowl, and he asked Paul and Mary to join him on stage. "We hadn't sung together in six years," Mary recalled. "We realized that we'd missed each other personally and musically, so we decided to try a limited reunion tour. We wanted to work together enough to have it be a meaningful part of our lives, but not so much that it wouldn't be fun." The balance they struck found them dividing their time between group and solo performances, playing about forty-five dates a year as a trio. Looking at the chemistry that was still so potent, Mary observed that, "Each of us has a talent that's pivotal for the group. Peter is a patient and meticulous worker, especially when it comes to sound quality, and that commitment to excellence is what yields the best possible environment in which to be creative. Noel has a relaxed sensibility, and that's a very calming influence when it comes to adjusting to difficult situations, which happen all the time. Of course, both are talented songwriters as well. I think I bring a spontaneity, an ability to connect with them emotionally and focus our attention on having a musical conversation. I believe that if we can have that conversation, then the audience will feel included." In keeping with the Folk tradition, that conversation always included new songs along with the familiar ones, and the new songs invariably reflected the trio's current concerns. Their first-hand accounts of the sufferings they witnessed in Central America gave special meaning to Stookey's "El Salvador", while Yarrow's "Light One Candle" gave voice to their support for the peace process in Israel. Both of these songs were released on an independent single in 1985, and profits went to support the Sanctuary Movement and self-determination efforts in Central America.
With "No Easy Walk To Freedom", the title track from their 1986 released album, Peter, Paul and Mary focused attention on the anti-apartheid cause, and were honored by the Free South Africa movement at a special benefit at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. That same year, they were at the vanguard of artists who worked to raise the public's awareness of homelessness. Their opening night of a week on Broadway was a fund raiser on behalf of the New York Coalition For The Homeless. These efforts all marked the group's twenty-five year association and culminated in their PBS special, 25th Anniversary Concert, which was broadcast in support of public television. This show has become one of the most popular specials and most successful fund raisers in PBS history.
In 1988, Peter, Paul and Mary became the focus of yet another special for PBS with A Holiday Concert, taped before a live audience in New York City. For this performance, the three were accompanied by the 160 member New York Choral Society and a 40-piece orchestra. Their renditions of holiday music were captured in "A Holiday Celebration" recording. In 1992, Peter, Paul and Mary re-signed with Warner Brothers Records, their first label, and recorded "Peter, Paul and Mommy, Too" their second children's album. "Peter, Paul and Mommy", released in 1969, was the name Mary's daughter Erika once gave her mother's group. The Grammy-nominated album and video, taped at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Majestic Theatre in New York with a live audience of children and their families, was a full-length concert which aired as an Emmy-nominated, hour-long special on PBS. Youngsters from Mary's own alma mater, The Little Red School House in Greenwich Village, participated in the recording. This effort is a definitive statement of the trio's legacy as it is passed on to the successive generations, of which there are now four, all a part of the group's audience. Songs on the album include live versions of "Puff, The Magic Dragon", "The Fox", "The Garden Song", "Blowin' In The Wind", "Inside", "If I Had A Hammer" and Paul Stookey's touching rendition of "Right Field", a sentimental reflection of youth sports.
The three performers achieved their remarkable status by never wavering from their earliest commitment to the spirit of the Folk music tradition they inherited. As Mary said of Folk songs, "The songs tell you if you're going to sing me, you have to live me, too." With all the fun and explosive joy inherent in a music filled with stories from the past, love and historical ballads, children's songs and work songs, there is also a continuing thread or message that explains why Peter, Paul and Mary stayed together, filled with hope and free of cynicism. "People can overcome their differences, and when united, move towards a world of greater fairness and justice," said Peter. "As in Folk music, each person has a unique role to play." Peter, Paul and Mary collectively and individually lived the reality that each person can, and does, make a difference.
Their 1998, twenty-five-song anthology celebrated the community-in-song that can come only from sitting around a campfire. Bringing together some of their best-known songs from their career, the LP "Around The Campfire" was the perfect soundtrack for a hearthside sing-along. Included were such fireside Folk-song favorites as "This Land Is Your Land" and "If I Had A Hammer", as well as Peter, Paul and Mary standards like "Leaving On A Jet Plane" and "Puff, The Magic Dragon".
February, 2004 saw the release of the trio's long-anticipated career retrospective, a boxed set called "Peter, Paul and Mary: Carry It On", as well as their first new studio album in over a decade, "In These Times". Unfortunately, Mary had been diagnosed with leukemia, which forced her to have a bone marrow transplant in April, leading to the cancellation of the remaining tour dates for the year. She was able to re-join her band mates for the first time on December 9th, 2005 for a holiday performance at Carnegie Hall. In 2006, Peter, Paul and Mary received the Sammy Cahn Lifetime Achievement Award from the Songwriters Hall of Fame. The trio sang for the George and Eleanor McGovern Library and Center for Leadership dedication concert in Mitchell, South Dakota, on October 5th, 2006. Several dates of their 2007 Summer tour had to be canceled as Mary took longer than expected to recover from back surgery and later had to undergo a second surgery, further postponing the tour. Mary was unable to perform on the group's tour during the Summer of 2009 due to her leukemia, but Peter and Paul performed the scheduled dates as a duo, calling the show "Peter and Paul Celebrate Mary and 5 Decades of Friendship." The Peter, Paul and Mary trio came to an end on September 16th, 2009, when Mary Travers died at age 72 from complications from chemotherapy, following treatment for leukemia.
After Travers' death, it was suggested by some that Stookey and Yarrow could find another female vocalist to sing Mary's vocal parts. Paul Stookey was quick to shoot that idea down. "It was never a consideration. There's no replacing Mary! I think to face Mary's loss publicly and not to try to dodge around it, to refer to it directly and in many instances compliment the audience as they sing Mary's part, was an important part of defusing any ill will." Yarrow and Stookey continued to perform as a duo under their individual names and still had dates booked in America in 2019.
During their amazing career, Peter, Paul and Mary were awarded five Grammys, eight Gold and five Platinum albums and placed twelve songs on the Billboard Top 40, with six of them in the Top 10.
For more, be sure to read Gary James' Interview With Paul Stookey