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Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary, R.I.P.: Remembering a folk-rock great

It never stops, does it? Last night brought the news that Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary had become, at age 72, yet another beloved entertainer gone too soon. Not a complete surprise – Travers was diagnosed with leukemia in 2004 – but very sad nonetheless.

Peter, Paul and Mary played a crucial role in helping the folk-music scene become a mass popular movement in the early 1960s. They couldn’t have done it without Mary Travers’ clear, expressive vocals. A gifted interpreter of others’ songs, she was the principal reason why the trio’s covers of Pete Seeger’s “If I Had A Hammer” and Bob Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind” were arguably better-loved than the originals. Harmonizing on silly kid’s tunes like the classic “Puff the Magic Dragon” one minute, playing for social justice at the historic March on Washington another – both in the year 1963 – Travers, along with bandmates Peter Yarrow and Noel Paul Stookey, epitomized something about that transformative era.

On a personal note, I was raised on Peter, Paul and Mary’s music in the 1980s. Making folk music for children was another key aspect of their legacy, from 1969’s Peter, Paul and Mommy to 1993’s Peter, Paul and Mommy, Too concert sequel, ensuring that a younger generation is missing Mary today, too. My lifelong folkie mom sent over the vintage clip you’ll find below of PP&M performing the standard “500 Miles.” Listen to Travers’ mournful, beautiful voice in this song and see if you can make it through without tearing up. Then share your memories of Mary Travers in the comments section.

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Originally posted September 17 2009 — 11:24 AM EDT

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