Mary Travers, who with Paul Stookey and Peter Yarrow performed some of the most enduring folk anthems of the 1960s as Peter, Paul and Mary, has died at age 72. Her spokeswoman, Heather Lylis, told the AP the cause was complications from leukemia, and that Travers passed away at Danbury Hospital in Connecticut today. The singer had undergone a bone marrow transplant and was “feeling fabulous” in 2006, but her condition deteriorated this year and she was no longer able to perform.
Travers was born in Kentucky but attended high school in New York’s West Village, where her family lived in the same building as folk icon Pete Seeger. She became a disciple of the Weavers and performed with Seeger before Yarrow and his manager Albert Grossman (who later steered Bob Dylan’s career) recruited her for the trio. After seven months of rehearsals, the group made its debut in 1961 performing songs carefully arranged by Milk Okun. Their self-titled debut came out the following year and boasted the Grammy-winning “If I Had a Hammer,” as well as “Lemon Tree” and Seeger’s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.” They hit Number One with “Leaving on Jet Plane” from 1967’s Album 1700, but made a large impact off the charts as leading voices of protest.
In 1963, the group famously performed Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “If I Had a Hammer” at the March on Washington, and released the latter on second LP Moving, which also boasted Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” and “Puff (The Magic Dragon).” Their gentle harmonies and sharp performances became calling cards of pivotal ’60s gatherings, from civil-rights demonstrations to anti-war rallies — and Travers was a striking onstage figure, flipping back her stick-straight blonde hair as Yarrow and Stookey strummed alongside her. Their rendition of “Blowin’ in the Wind” shipped 300,000 copies in two weeks and brought the song newfound attention; Peter, Paul and Mary went on to do a cover of Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” that hit Number Nine.
The trio split up to work on solo projects in 1970, and Travers released five albums between 1971 and 1978. Their reunion disc Reunion came out in 1978, the year the group reformed to play a concert to protest nuclear power.
According to The New York Times, Yarrow released a statement calling Travers’ vocals “honest and completely authentic” like her personality. Stookey said “her charisma was a barely contained nervous energy — occasionally (and then only privately) revealed as stage fright.”