Mary Travers of the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary died at age 72 last fall before completion of a music project 30 years in the making.
Now it is finished. Peter, Paul and Mary With Symphony Orchestra: The Prague Sessions made its debut March 9. The collection consists of 14 live performances recorded during the 1980s and ’90s now combined with the Czech National Symphony Orchestra performing arrangements that Robert DeCormier, the group’s longtime music director, began creating in the 1980s.
The album is “for Mary,” says Peter Yarrow, who with Travers and Noel Paul Stookey exploded on the music scene in 1962. “It is something she really wanted to do. It marries the sounds of folk, classical and symphonic and it completes a chapter of our lives—solidifies the Peter, Paul and Mary legacy.” The collaboration is a unique way of “honoring Mary’s sensitivity to the scope and importance of the music we shared,” he says.
The collection features the groups biggest hit, “Leavin’ on a Jet Plane,” along with “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” “Blowin’ in the Wind,” and the whimsical “Puff the Magic Dragon.” The final track is Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings,” an instrumental piece Mary requested for her memorial service.
From the top
Stookey compares the collaboration to the final page of a family photo album where everyone is spiffed up and in place. The first page of such a photo album would show two scruffy, bearded guys and their statuesque partner, whose long straight golden locks inspired legions of college girls to rush to their ironing boards to straighten their own hair.
In 1961 the guitar-playing New Yorker Yarrow, Stookey, a standup comic from Baltimore, and Kentucky-born actress and singer Mary Travers met in Greenwich Village. They clicked.
“Something happens when people with the same DNA sing together,” Stookey says. “We all agreed to try ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb,’ and when we sang it for the third time, we sounded like family. That sound persisted for almost 50 years.”
Their debut at the Bitter End Café in the Village ushered in a new type of harmony in the folk-music revival and an era of social protest anthems. They called themselves Peter, Paul and Mary because it was catchier than Peter, Noel and Mary. After the release of their first album in 1962, they quickly became one of the most celebrated folk music ensembles in the world. Travers stood out on stage, bobbing her flaxen hair in sync with the music and dramatically raising her fist at appropriate moments. To Peter, she was always “honest and completely authentic.”
In 1963 the group became heroes of civil rights movement when they performed “If I Had a Hammer” at the March on Washington, best remembered for Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. They went on to participate in the voting rights marches from Selma to Montgomery. “I was raised to believed that everybody has a responsibility to the community,” she told the New York Times. ”It’s a big community.”
Yarrow says that he and Mary “were born with a sense of social activism.” Both sets of parents were “very progressive, and it was in our blood. Noel came to it later. Every time you sing, you’ve got to do it with honesty and sing what your soul tells you to.”