Peter, Paul & Mary
Fourth Australian Tour
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
"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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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