RIP Mary Travers

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We lost Mary Travers yesterday. (If the name doesn’t ring a bell, she was the “Mary” of Peter, Paul & Mary.) She was diagnosed with leukemia several years ago, and underwent chemotherapy which allowed her to have a life-saving bone marrow transplant. Unfortunately, it was the side effects of the chemotherapy that killed her.

I saw PP&M several times—although only after they’d split up and then got back together again. Every concert was memorable.

They came in for a lot of criticism from “real” folk singers for having homogenized harmonies and too precise tempos, but their voices blended beautifully and their political and social beliefs literally resonated in their music.

They also came in for some criticism, especially after they got back together in 1978, for being anachronistic, part of a long-ago faded fad. But as Mary said during one concert, “Folk music is not a fad because you [the audience] are not a fad.”

But they helped make history. They were invited by Martin Luther King Jr. to sing at the 1963 March on Washington, where he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech and they sang “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “If I Had a Hammer.”

Probably the most memorable PP&M concert I attended was in the early 1980s at the old Ontario Place Forum. The Forum was an outdoor venue with seating under its roof for about 3,000, and surrounding grassy hillsides that comfortably accommodated another 8,000 (although some rock concerts drew audiences of more than 20,000). The stage was 20.4 metres in diameter and rotated the full 360° every hour. Rain was forecast for this night, and many people sat on the hills in the drizzle. But then it really began to pour, and the masses moved down to try to at least stand under the roof. Instead, Mary invited as many as would fit to sit on the stage. I don’t know how many people wound up sitting on the stage, but it looked pretty cozy. I don’t know how the Ontario Place management felt about it, but it was a generous thing to do.

photo credit: Sally Farr

So hammer on, Mary. Keep an eye on us — we still need you.

photo credit: Barry Feinstein

One of my favourite PP&M songs is “Day is Done,” which this clips shows them singing for a not-terribly enthusiastic Japanese audience in 1990:

One other note: this Sunday is the 25th anniversary of the death of Steve Goodman, the Chicago folkie who wrote “The City of New Orleans,” among other songs you’ve almost certainly heard. He died of leukemia in 1984. Below is a picture I took of Steve—funnily enough, at the Ontario Place Forum in 1978—which my friend Clay Eals used in Facing the Music, his 2007 biography of Goodman.

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3 thoughts on “RIP Mary Travers

  1. Catherine Owen

    Thank you for the really nice thoughts and photos about Mary Travers — she was one of my favorites and one of my parents' favorites, too. They used to play Peter, Paul and Mary records at home when I was little.

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