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Peter, Paul & Mary
Fourth Australian Tour
August 1968

Why we sing...

During the past decade, folk music has enjoyed a tremendous popular revival.

Why should audiences in this slick, sophisticated age care about a whimsical dragon named "Puff" or a careless hunter who mistakes his sweetheart, "Polly Von," for a great white swan -and kills her?

Perhaps the answer lies in the nature of the music itself. No two or three performers, ourselves included, will ever agree on a clear-cut definition of what is a folk song. But there are elements common to all.

For one thing, a folk song tells you about the time and place in which it was born. This is as true today, when Bob Dylan echoes the voice of the world's oppressed in "Blowin' in the Wind," as it was in 16th century Scotland, when an unknown troubador sang of the cruel king who seduced a chambermaid, "Mary Hamilton," then beheaded her.

Some folk songs have been almost libelously explicit in their time, as the verse in "The Midnight Special" which warned wayfarers to keep away from a headbusting Texas sheriff named Benson. Others have held hidden meaning such as the pre-Civil War ballad, "Follow The Drinking Gourd," whose lyrics directed runaway slaves to the "underground railway" and freedom.

What else marks a folk song? It is never totally negative or nihilistic. "The Peet Bog Soldiers," for example, was sung by the inmates of Nazi concentration camps, in the face of horror and death. Yet, in the third stanza, they realize that it is Spring and that, somewhere, beyond the barbed wire and machine gun emplacements, a beautiful new world is coming to life.

More than anything else, a folk song is honest. There has never been one written for the sole purpose of being performed on a stage for money. Unless a man has some emotion or idea he feels driven to get off his chest, he isn't going to express himself quite this way.

This honesty, which underlies the creation of folk music, must be carried into its execution. The three of us agreed on, this long ago, and if we ever stop agreeing, it will be time to ask for our last names back.

We have never performed a song which did not move us, either emotionally or cerebrally ... a fact which has caused us to do some apparently foolhardy things. When we first teamed up, for example, we were asked to record a 'sure-fire' hit, guaranteed to put some quick, desperately needed cash in our pockets. There was only one catch. It was a lousy song, and we decided to stay broke a bit longer,

For the same reason, we have turned down several embarrassingly lucrative offers to do television and radio commercials. We have nothing against commercials or, for that matter, money. But we haven't found a brand of toothpaste or beer which has deep, personal meaning for us, and until we do, we'll pass.

A few months ago, we were scheduled as guests on the "Bell Telephone Hour." Three days before the programme, we walked out, which might have seemed like infantile temperament -but wasn't.

What happened was this. Several weeks before the telecast, we selected our repertoire with the producer and director. Then a sponsor's representative showed up and told us that one song -a lilting, hundred-year-old Nova Scotian ballad-would have to "go" unless the lyric was cleaned up.

The line which disturbed him went, "Next Monday when I go to my bed and turn around to the man I have wed..."

The implication was clear. The man from the phone company did not believe that, even during the long Nova Scotian winter, a husband and wife would do anything so shocking as share the same bed. And if they did, he was darned if we'd sing about it on the phone company's time.

There was nothing to do but pick up our guitars and walk out.

This is not to say that we are ivory tower idealists. We like money and success as much as any other professional entertainers. But we are involved in a form of expression whose vitality is its sincerity.

To compromise our beliefs about our own work would be to destroy ourselves as performers from that moment on.

This is our credo, and it has, at times, been an expensive one. It explains why we have gone as long as a whole year without releasing an album (we release a record when we have 12 songs that are right - we can have no other "schedule,") and why we have taken an active part in the Civil Rights movement, despite warnings that this would hurt our bookings in the South. Which it did.

It is why we spend several months developing and rehearsing each new song that we introduce into our repertoire.

It is why we love our work and each other and the sense of kinship we feel with an audience.

It is why we sing.


PeterIf Josh White had not been delayed one hour for a concert at Cornell University in 1959, Peter Yarrow might today well be a psychologist instead of the tenor of the most popular folk group in history.

Peter, who had an intense interest in painting and music since his childhood, was a senior majoring in psychology at Cornell. He was also President of the college's folksong club and had produced Cornell's first series of folk concerts. When he learned that Josh's plane was delayed, Peter performed for an hour, and held the audience until Josh arrived. Josh's kind compliments to Peter afterwards provoked Peter's first considerations of a professional career in folk music.

Peter was born in New York City in 1937 and attended Public School 6 in Manhattan. As a child he showed remarkable promise in music and art. While most boys were out playing ball, Peter whiled away the hours painting and playing the violin. After he graduated from grammar school, Peter attended the High School of Music and Art, where all the students were gifted in either painting or music.

At Music and Art all the art students, including Peter, played the guitar and participated in folk singing. It was here that Peter learned all the songs.

"To this day I remember the first feeling of real communication with a large audience," recalls Peter. "One Saturday night party-deserves special mention. We all played the guitar and sang. They were beautiful songs of freedom and hope, and often, in the last hours of the party, we would weep together in our awakening to the knowledge of a man's love for his brother."

In the autumn of 1955 Peter entered Cornell University as a prospective physics major, with the intention of going to graduate school in the design area.

In his senior year Peter was offered an undergraduate assistantship in an English course dealing with the history of folk stories and songs. The renowned Dr. Harold Thompson taught the course, and it was through this man's erudition that Peter became aware of the historic import as well as the emotional power of folk music. He had changed his major to psychology and had become active in the folksong club at the University.

The delay in Josh White's concert followed and when Peter graduated from Cornell in September, 1959, he decided to try to earn money by singing.

Peter's first job was in a coffee house in New York's Greenwich Village. He was then asked to tour the midwest with the Aviv Theatre of Song and Dance and it was with them that he acquired a respect for the profession.

After the tour Peter decided to work alone and got a job at the newly opened "Cafe Wha?" in Greenwich Village where he was first seen by manager Albert B. Grossman, who signed Peter to a contract. His first real break came in 1960 when he performed on the first television folk spectacular, "Folk Sound U.S.A." Performances at the Newport Folk Festival, the Gate of Horn in Chicago and the Ash Grove in Los Angeles followed.

During this time Peter was working under the aegis of Grossman, and when Peter returned to New York Grossman first discussed with him the possibility of forming a group. Grossman introduced him to Mary, who had already been singing with Paul, and Peter wrote the arrangement for "This Train," which was the first song the group sang together. They then worked out the parts to "Cruel War," and it became their second song.

Gradually, Peter, Paul and Mary began to believe that they might have something to say together and the trio was born.

Peter, who is sometimes called the "straightman" of the group, is a bachelor and lives in an apartment on the Upper East Side in New York. In addition to the activities of the group, he keeps an interest in painting, architecture, physics and psychology.


PaulWhen a tall, well-dressed young man took over the stage of a Greenwich Village coffee house, "The Commons," there was a ripple of surprise in the audience. In a well-tailored Brooks Brothers suit, complete with vest, he didn't seem the type to sing folk songs.

But Paul Stookey didn't care. He had discovered something that meant more to him than material success.

A few months later, Paul quit his job as production manager of a chemical supply company. ("They thought I had lost my mind," he recalls. "After less than a year with the firm, I'd been given a private office and my own dictaphone.") He spent more and more time in the Village, and soon acquired a reputation as a sensitive folk balladeer, with a gift for comedy and impressions.

"Then, one night, a tall graceful girl, her long blonde hair in a pony tail, visited 'The Commons' , " Paul recalls. "I thought she was the freshest, most beautiful thing I'd ever seen."

The girl's name was Mary Travers and she, too, was set on a career as a folk singer. So they teamed in informal folk sessions at coffee houses like the "Cafe Wha?" and "The Gaslight." Then one afternoon, Mary brought another new friend, an intense, articulate young man named Peter Yarrow, to a rehearsal. The three of them joined voices and the unique, haunting sound of Peter, Paul and Mary was born.

To Paul, it was the most satisfying moment of his life.

"Music had always had a special meaning for me," he says. "I guess it goes back to when I was eight years old. I was born in Baltimore but we were living at the time in Dorsey, Maryland, and one afternoon, I was driving in the country with my father in our old Chevy convertible.

"The top was down and we were singing the 'Too Fat Polka' at the top of our lungs. When my dad began singing harmony, I stood up in the front seat and laughed so hard I couldn't sing any more. All that happiness in my ears was just too much."

By the time Paul reached high school, he had formed his own rock 'n roll combo, the 'Birds of Paradise! The group, he recalls, made two recordings which promptly sold "all five hundred copies."

At Michigan State University, he acquired an electric guitar, a pair of gold coloured trousers and a reputation as a quick man with a joke. "I emceed everything from a water carnival to a charity benefit where we auctioned off sorority girls," he remembers. "And, somewhere around my sophomore year, I got elected the third ugliest man on campus."

When Paul's family moved to Philadelphia, he left school and took a job in a camera store. With the help of a national photo contest ("I won $467 worth of flash bulbs and cashed them in for much less") he put together enough money to come to New York. The job with the chemical supply company followed, but Paul admits that, despite rapid promotions, his heart wasn't in his work.

"A few evenings a week, after work, I'd wander down to the Village to play chess at "The Commons." Then, one night, the chess tables were gone. There was a stage there instead and anyone who wanted could try out as an entertainer. So, I picked up my guitar and took the plunge."

Today, Paul Stookey is recognized not only as an integral part of the most acclaimed folk singing group, but as a talented composer (of "Rain, Rain ... .. Early in the Morning," "Talking Candy Bar Blues" and others,) and as a satirist whose easy-going personality belies a barbed wit.

According to Peter and Mary, his talents also include a wizardry at keeping books and accounts. ("I guess my business experience wasn't wasted after all," he explains.)

Married to the former Elizabeth Bannard and the father of a daughter, Elizabeth, born in 1965, he lives in a renovated factory in the heart of Greenwich Village. When not performing he enjoys golfing or "taking back roads to out-of-the-way places" in his sports car.

More than anything else, however, Paul Stookey enjoys singing. "Communication of thought and emotion, for all men, is my goal," he says with deep sincerity. "Folk music is a way of achieving it."


MaryIt must have been pre-ordained for Mary Allin Travers to be a singer of folk songs.

Folk music and folk history have been a part of Mary's heritage for almost 300 years, and the distaff member of Peter, Paul and Mary likes to think that, when she is singing some of the early American folk songs, members of her family sang these songs when they and the events that evoked them were new.

Mary's great-grandmother, who came out of Illinois to be one of the first public school teachers in the State of Arkansas, had seen the face of Lincoln. Her mother had gone on to make the trek West to Oregon. A multiple-great-grandfather had been an officer with Washington's Army. Mary feels a sense of continuity with this history and with the folk music that reflects it.

Mary was born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1937 and first remembers singing on a New York City picket line when she was five. Her parents, who are both writers and worked for a Louisville newspaper, moved to New York when the paper they were on went out of business. Mary lived in Greenwich Village in a house reputedly built for Alexander Hamilton and where Pete Seeger rehearsed in the basement. Seeger, one of the most revered figures in the folk field, stimulated her interest in folk music.

In time, Mary began to visit Greenwich Village cellars as a listener and singer. When her mother remarried-to a French doctor who was a director of the World Health Organization - Mary inherited a non-English speaking brother and sister. Together, with her own younger sister, folk music became a means of communication -a substitute for spoken language.

Mary learned many foreign songs and the group would entertain for a steady stream of diplomats from all over the world who had now became a part of their daily lives.

Like many other young people raised in Greenwich Village, Mary gravitated toward the Washington Square Park folk-sings and the neighbourhood coffee shops. She joined a chorus which played Carnegie Hall twice and also cut three records with another group called "The Songswappers," which also included Seeger and Erik Darling.

"I never dared to sing on my own," she recalls. "I was scared to death."

In 1957 Mary landed a spot in the chorus of Mort Sahl's Broadway show, "The Next President," which closed after an unceremonious two-week run. This job convinced Mary that stage musicals were not for her, so she took a series of fill-in jobs in literary and advertising agencies and practiced her writing prowess. During high school she had a story published in "Seventeen," and later she studied for a year at the Art Institute of New York.

It was not until 1961 that Mary was coaxed back to the stage. It was then that she met Paul Stookey in a Village club called "The Commons" and Paul got her up on the stage again.

"Suddenly I was on my own," Mary remembers. "The first few times the whole stage shook. Then I got the feel of it and was on my way."

Manager Albert B. Grossman saw Mary work and introduced her to Peter Yarrow, whom Grossman was representing. Mary introduced Peter to Paul and soon the three were working up numbers together. The rest is folk song history.

When not dashing around the world in concert, or appearing on television or cutting, records, Mary lives in New York and finds time to be an expert homemaker.

Mary is married to freelance photographer Barry Feinstein and they have a daughter, Alicia, born in 1966. Mary also has a daughter, Erika, born in 1959 by a previous marriage. "Erika is to be sung, not talked about," says Mary.

"I've found beautiful things to be had from singing," reflects Mary. "It's been a real awakening. But, as for Peter and Paul-they have made the improbable possible-they have given me myself."


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