Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A Tribute

It's only been a few years since my dad plopped an old 33 on his turn table and we sipped coffees to the melodies of Peter, Paul and Mary.  I fell in love.  That same vinyl spun around and around and around for months.  When I was cleaning.  When I was reading.  Always.  I started treating myself to album after album - though I think my dad had their best from the start.  Last weekend we took my dad's old turntable to Hawthorne Stereo for a diagnosis.  Within the hour we were back at John's, the voice of Karen Carpenter streaming through the living room speakers.  The Carpenters were a feature in both of our childhoods - my parents played "We've Only Just Begun" at their wedding, us girls selected it for the renewal of their vows 25 years later.  John's family danced to their Christmas albums each December.  It seemed only fitting to be our first album on this record player that had now become "ours" - one of the many things we've taken from the lives of our parents.

But the second album?  It had to be Peter, Paul and Mary.  Because while I love the Carpenters, because it is "theirs" - well, Peter, Paul and Mary - they are mine.  And after Saturday, I think perhaps they could be "ours".  Grateful to have the man I do, one who'd fiddle for hours with wires and cords and nobs, just to make voices that have been singing worthwhile words for 50 years, a little clearer.  

The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll called Peter, Paul and Mary "the most popular acoustic folk music group of the 1960's." During that decade they produced 11 albums, 5 of which became million sellers. And they scored 12 hit singles, including the classic children's song, "Puff, the Magic Dragon" and "Leaving on a Jet Plane," a ballad written by John Denver. The group brought folk music to a new prominence in the post-McCarthy era, putting songs about politics and morality on the radio amid the syrupy boy-girl love songs that dominated when they began playing together in the early 1960s. 

 Peter Yarrow, Noel Paul Stookey and Mary Travers made their debut in 1961 at the Bitter End in Greenwich Village. On the strength of this performance, they were signed to a recording contract with Warner Brothers. Released in May 1962, their first eponymously titled album included their rendition of Pete Seeger's song, "If I Had a Hammer," a hit that was the first record to bring protest music to a mainstream audience. Eighteen months later their version of "Blowin' in the Wind" became a hit, and the first commercially successful recording of a song written by Bob Dylan.

As their fame grew, Peter, Paul and Mary mixed music with political and social activism. In 1963 the trio marched with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Ala., and Washington, D.C. The three participated in countless demonstrations against the war in Vietnam. And they sang at the 1969 March on Washington, which Mr. Yarrow helped to organize. 

Exhausted by nearly 10 years of nonstop touring and recording, Mr. Yarrow, Mr. Stookey and Ms. Travers disbanded in 1970. But it proved to be only an intermission. They reunited on a part-time basis in 1978, and continued to perform together for decades. They have five Grammy Awards and a handful of gold and platinum albums. Ms. Travers died on Sept. 16, 2009, at 72. 

The New York Times.

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