Mary Travers dies

Helped form Peter, Paul and Mary in the '60s

DANBURY, Conn. -- Mary Travers, one-third of the hugely popular 1960s folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary, died Wednesday of leukemia at Danbury Hospital. She was 72.

Travers joined forces with Peter Yarrow and Noel Paul Stookey in the early '60s, and the trio mingled their three-part harmony with liberal politics, both onstage and off. Their hit version of "If I Had a Hammer" became an anthem for racial equality.

They were early champions of Bob Dylan. Their 1963 album "In the Wind" featured three songs by the 22-year-old singer-songwriter. "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" and "Blowin' in the Wind" both reached the top 10, bringing Dylan's material to a massive audience. The latter single shipped 300,000 copies during one two-week period, and Peter, Paul and Mary performed it at the August 1963 March on Washington.

The group members also were vehement in their opposition to the Vietnam War, managing to stay true to their liberal beliefs while creating music that resonated in the American mainstream.

The group collected five Grammy Awards and score a half-dozen top-10 singles. At one point in 1963, three of their albums were in the top six Billboard best-selling LPs. It was heady stuff for a trio that had formed in Greenwich Village, running through simple tunes like "Mary Had a Little Lamb."

They debuted at the Bitter End in 1961, and their beatnik look -- a tall blonde flanked by a pair of goateed guitarists -- was a part of their initial appeal. As the New York Times critic Robert Shelton put it not long afterward, "Sex appeal as a keystone for a folk-song group was the idea of the group's manager, Albert B. Grossman, who searched for months for 'the girl' until he decided on Miss Travers."

Their eponymous debut album came out in 1962 and spent seven weeks at No. 1. It included the singles "Lemon Tree" and "If I Had a Hammer"; the latter won them Grammys for best folk recording and best performance by a vocal group.

"Moving" was the follow-up, including the hit tale of innocence lost, "Puff (The Magic Dragon)" -- which reached No. 2 on the charts and generated since-discounted reports that it was an ode to marijuana.

Album No. 3, "In the Wind," was the group's biggest, spending nine weeks at No. 1. Their next two reached the top 10; in all, they had nine gold or platinum LPs. "Peter, Paul and Mommy" (1969) won a Grammy for best children's album.

With the advent of the Beatles and Dylan's switch to electric guitar, the folk boom disappeared. But the trio continued their success, scoring in 1967 with the tongue-in-cheek single "I Dig Rock and Roll Music," a gentle parody of the Mamas and the Papas, and their only No. 1 single, the John Denver-penned "Leaving on a Jet Plane," two years later.

They also continued as boosters for young songwriters, recording numbers written by then-little-known Gordon Lightfoot and Laura Nyro.
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