Justice and Freedom ~ But Most of All, Love

Peter, Paul, and Mary arrive in Tokyo (1964) to play for military audiences
(Photo courtesy Stars and Stripes)

Stan Lee. Aretha Franklin. Charles Aznavour. Tom Wolfe. Neil Simon…

As if confounded by the inability of wealth or fame to resist the predations of time, we stand, incredulous, before the deaths of our celebrities, watching as their lives begin to fade against the horizon of history.

Sometimes we grieve. Sometimes we become nostalgic. Sometimes we become nervous, aware that the passing of yet another famous face is a marker of sorts: a memento mori, a reminder that our years, too, are passing, and that the fate of others soon enough will be our own.

Occasionally, the response is more personal.  When I learned of Mary Travers’s passing in 2009, I wasn’t surprised. Her struggles with leukemia had been well documented, and her death in a Danbury, Connecticut hospital at the age of 72 was the natural outcome of a long process. Still, it stirred some memories.


I’d first become aware of Travers when she joined with Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey to begin making music around New York’s Greenwich Village in the early 1960s; the trio swept into American consciousness with an irresistible combination of intensity and cool. Herb Caen, celebrated columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, coined the term “beatnik” in a  1958 column that might have taken lanky, blond Mary and her goatee-wearing pals as models.


Their 1962 debut album, Peter, Paul & Mary, contained two of their biggest hits: Lemon Tree, and the multiple Grammy Award-winning If I Had a Hammer. Within weeks of purchasing the album, I’d memorized the lyrics and chords for each of its songs, as had most of my friends. Later generations might moonwalk or play air guitar, but in our 1960s basements and bedrooms, we strummed and harmonized.

Folk harmonies sounded ‘nice’ to an older generation unsure about Elvis, Chuck Berry, or Jerry Lee Lewis, so our parents found it easy to smile approvingly while we listened and sang. In time, the songs’ lyrics would begin to balance the sweetness of those harmonies, resonating in a way rendered sharper and more pointed by changing circumstance and our own maturation. But in the beginning, it was the fun of singing along that drew us in.

One day, news of a concert appeared in the Des Moines Register — Peter, Paul, and Mary would be playing the KRNT Theater in Des Moines. Immediately, four high-schoolers set about nagging four sets of parents for permission to attend. When our parents agreed, my friends and I hardly knew how to respond. It was to be our first live concert, our first trip without chaperones to an out-of-town event, and our first exhilarating taste of an adult social life.

The concert, a two-hour performance before a sold-out crowd, seemed far too short. At its conclusion, unwilling for the night to end, we searched out a well-known coffee house on the edge of the Drake University campus and settled in among the mix of patrons, trying not to call attention to ourselves.

We needn’t have worried. Shortly after our coffee arrived, Peter, Paul, and Mary arrived as well, drawing all of the attention to themselves. After ordering, they began working the room, chatting and signing autographs as though it were the most natural thing in the world.

Inevitably, someone asked if they’d sing another song. Rather than declining outright, they suggested they’d be happy to reprise Lemon Tree if we would join them in the chorus.  And so we sang: beautiful, ethereal Mary, puckish Peter, and quiet Paul leading their awe-stricken fans down paths of melody like a trio of Bohemian pied pipers.

Many decades later, browsing web postings about Mary’s death, I discovered a similar account of a KRNT concert in the comment section of Rzine, a former publication of Rhino Records.

John Hagelston had told the story of a visit by the trio to the company’s headquarters. It was a typical account of an entirely pleasant day: a mix of a little business, a little singing, and some time for employees to meet and chat with the musicians.

Imagine my surprise when I found this comment, left by an anonymous reader:

My girl friend and I attended a concert given by the trio during the late 1960’s in Des Moines, Iowa. After the concert, the trio were signing autographs and interacting with fans in their usual fashion and I got up the nerve to ask Peter if he needed a ride to the hotel. Amazingly, after exchanging glances with us between autographs for what seemed a long time, he brought the autograph session to a close, approached the two of us and said he would alert his manager to the situation.
So off we went, the three of us. Peter asked if there were any coffee shops on the university campus where local talent performed but, unfortunately, the only such establishment closed early on week nights. I always wondered how the “regulars” would have reacted to an impromtu jam session with Peter Yarrow.

I’ve always wished I could have told that anonymous commenter that Peter had his opportunity to visit the coffee house on a Saturday night, and that he brought Paul and Mary with him.

Over the years, I enjoyed other concerts by the group — in Iowa City, in Telluride, in San Francisco — but none of the performances exceeded the pleasure of that intimate coffee house evening. Still, by the time they joined together to perform on April 24, 1971 at the Washington, D.C. march to protest the Vietnam war, the context for their music had changed. No one who attended that march — or followed events connected to the civil rights protests of the 1960s — ever will forget the power of their collective voice.

“If I Had a Hammer” ~ written by Pete Seeger and Lee Hayes

I last heard the group in Texas, at the Kerrville Folk Festival. Mary, who had been quite ill and hospitalized, flew in for a single performance. Walking with a cane and obviously suffering the effects of her treatments, she remained dignified, good-humored and honest about the realities of her life.

Despite being in less than good voice and despite needing physical support from time to time, she sang on. As the sun set and stars rose, tears fell among audience members compelled to face the truth. It would be the last time we would see Peter, Paul, and Mary together on stage.


To remember Mary Travers today is to remember a woman whose voice stirred longings and aspirations in an emerging generation as surely as she expressed those aspirations to the world. Clear-eyed in her approach to life, graced with remarkable toughness and an extra allotment of kindness, she maintained her commitment to causes of peace and justice to the very end.

Reflecting on her life, fellow group member Peter Yarrow mused, “Mary always was honest and completely authentic. That’s the way she sang, too: honestly, and with complete authenticity.”

Listening to Travers’s songs and tracing her path through the decades, I feel again the surge of hope and possibility that rang out in that honest and authentic voice. Weary of bureaucratic wrangling, sick to death of pettiness, pessimism, and every sort of posturing along the full length of the political spectrum, I wonder: is it possible that the old songs might once again stir hearts grown accustomed to seeking not justice, but partiality: not freedom, but advantage? Is it possible that clear and authentic voices once again will ring out over the din of manipulated rancor?

Only time will tell. But while Mary Travers has laid her hammer down, it may be time for those who remain to pick it up. There are sisters and brothers among us who need to hear her song.

Comments always are welcome. Click here for more information about the history of the song “If I Had a Hammer.”

140 thoughts on “Justice and Freedom ~ But Most of All, Love

  1. Yes, Ma’am! I’m sorry that we need reminding of this, but I’m glad there are many voices (perhaps not as beautiful as Mary’s) who are singing, ringing, and working toward justice.

    1. There never can be too many reminders. It’s occurred to me that we could do with a little more singing, too. It makes a lot of things easier, and helps to bind communities. After hurricane Ike, friends down at the bay made up their own little work song: “Hi ho, hi ho, it’s through the trash we go. We toss some junk and then we grump…” It was hilarious, even at the time.

    1. There was a lot of memorable music during the 60s: some of it sharp and satirical, some of it purely humorous, and some just fun to sing. I’ve wondered in recent years why it was that the concert and lecture circuit seemed to wind through Iowa, but it did, and I’m glad I took advantage of the opportunities.

  2. I knew Mary Travers and she was, as she is described in your post, authentic. She had no sense of herself as a celebrity. That is one of those qualities about which we might say that we can’t define it, but we know it when we see it. Your anecdote about the performance you saw toward the end of Mary’s life reminded me of our parallel experience with Pete Seeger, who left a hospital bed to appear with Arlo Guthrie at Carnegie Hall. It was Pete’s last concert. Years before, Pete sang at a high school in my county, and about 900 people showed up. A man sitting behind me kept whispering to the boy who was with him—his grandson, if I’m any judge of ages—”Look at him, and listen to him! I want you to remember that you saw him.”

    1. The cultivation of celebrity that some engage in today is as vacuous as it is obvious. The phrase ‘famous for being famous’ comes to mind.

      How fortunate that you were able to attend the Carnegie Hall concert, although I suspect your memories of the high school concert are equally pleasing. Best of all is your story of the man and his grandson. There’s something poignant about it that I can’t quite pinpoint: unless it’s that increasing numbers of adults aren’t taking the time to help children look and listen to anything outside their devices’ screens.

  3. We remember them well. There seemed to have been some kind of movement during those years that gave hope. Hope is not the same as optimism which generally relies that things will make sense irrespective of how it turns out.
    The only life concert we ever went to see and hear were the Gipsy Kings. I am not sure what happened to them.
    Music and singing ought to be compulsory at schools.

    1. Your comment about the difference between hope and optimism sounds remarkably like an observation made by playwright and statesman Vaclav Havel, who once observed that hope is not the same as choosing struggles that are headed only for success. According to Havel, “Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.”

      The Gipsy Kings still are together and touring. They spent October in Brazil, and have gigs in Paris and London scheduled for the new year. Who knows? Maybe they’ll come to your part of the world and you can see them again.

      Music was woven into my schooling: not only in specific courses, but also as a part of literature and history classes. I was surprised, some years ago, to learn that many schools have deemed music an elective, or removed it entirely. Of course, I recently read that some schools now consider history an elective. That could explain a few things.

      1. Yes, I did read that pearl of wisdom from Vaclav Havel. We still hold him up as the hero of leaders that ought to be chosen at elections. After arriving in Australia my parents were astonished to learn that not a single foreign language was taught at schools. It was worse; students could chose to either learn history or geography but NOT both.
        The history totally ignored those Australians that have lived here for over 50 000 years.
        Glad to hear the Gypsy Kings are still around.

  4. Very nice, Linda. I ready liked this group. I’m not sure but I think at one time I had one of their albums. I lost some of my records of various artists. But I can still hear the songs in my mind. You were so fortunate to have had the pleasure of hearing them in several places. I am sure that your memory, of them, must be sharp and poignant as well.

    1. I don’t have my vinyl records any more, but I think I must have had nearly every one: at least, those that were produced in the 60s and 70s. Today we have the advantage of being able to watch films of their concerts from around the world on YouTube, and that’s a fun way to listen to the music.

      So many of my favorites never had the playtime of “Puff” or “Lemon Tree,” but they’ve aged well, and I still enjoy them. Given the way my life turned out, it amuses me that I spent hours in the 1960s listening to “When the Ship Comes In”.

  5. I was only two years old in 1963 but “If I had a Hammer” and “Lemon” tree were two songs that I loved to sing as I grew up in the 60’s. Hearing this recording, I broke into goose bumps, which I do any time I hear a song that touches my soul. I never thought about the meaning of songs as a child, but I understand the lyrics now, and the importance of the message.

    I grew up on the cusp of 60’s music moving into the 70’s hair bands. It was a great time to be a young lady.

    1. I remember how surprised I was to discover that some groups I like — Bon Jovi, Van Halen, Aerosmith — are considered hair bands. When I was growing up, a hair band was that pastel elasticized thing we used to keep hair out of our eyes. How times change.

      One of the beauties of so many so-called folk songs is that they can be appreciated on different levels. A singable tune stays in the mind more easily than a difficult one, and, like a poem, lyrics can be understood quite differently from one reading to the next. Beyond that, singing together binds people together. Even if we’re only listening to a group that’s learned how to sing together, we can be moved.

      America’s musical heritage is so rich. The Library of Congress’s Folklife Center has digitized much of Alan Lomax’s catalogue now (if not all of it) and it’s fascinating to find the roots of so many modern songs in the work songs, party songs, dances, and ballads of an earlier time.

  6. Fitting tribute. I have another story. Noel Stookie (Later Paul) went to my high school. He was a year or two ahead of me and would come back to give solo performances. He was an excellent comic. Once the trio was famous, they came back and did a concert in the high school gym for students and teachers. They blew the roof off and everyone had an outstanding time.

    1. You’re the second person who’s mentioned a high school concert. Obviously, it was something they enjoyed doing, both as a group and as individuals. You’re right about Paul’s comedic talents, too. His introductions to songs could be as entertaining as the songs themselves.

      It’s been interesting to see him pop up in places I wouldn’t have expected since he began working solo. For one thing, he’s done production work for another of my favorites, Gordon Bok. Clearly, he’s been able to move forward, despite radically changed circumstances.

  7. Oh, I didn’t know that Charles Aznavour had died. I remember thinking, maybe a year ago, that he was getting old (I didn’t realize how old) and wondering how much longer he might live. I saw him live only once, as a French major in college in New York City, but I had and still have a bunch of his albums, all on vinyl.

    In that same period I saw Peter, Paul, and Mary live at an impromptu bit of singing they did on the steps of one of Columbia’s buildings. From that afternoon I still have (somewhere) their autographs on an issue of a little individualist publication my father put out intermittently for decades.

    Can it really be half a century since then?

    1. I nearly posted about Aznavour when he died in early October. I was introduced to him in Berkeley. The coffee shop I favored didn’t always have music playing in the background, but when they did they featured vocalists like Aznavour, Amália, and Piaf. My nights in that café often were as educational as my days in the classroom.

      Having PP&M’s autographs is special enough, but it’s even nicer to have them on something other than a napkin. Coincidentally, I was thinking of your father recently. I was reading about the community land trust program associated with the Schumacher Center, and was interested to find a reference to Henry George. As I recall, your father was interested in George’s theories.

  8. That’s one memorable encounter indeed! And such are the fondness we cherish when we say ‘the good ole days”. I’m so sorry to see how things have changed in just a couple years’ time, and oh how I wish the songs and words of PP&M still ring loud today. BTW, I still have that vinyl record you have here on your post.

    1. I was so proud of that album we both enjoyed. I wish I still had mine, but somewhere along the line, my record collection went away. I honestly don’t remember when or how, which is a little strange. Just so you know, I looked it up and found that album is for sale on Amazon Prime — for $69.00!

      There have been a lot of changes over the years. Some have been good; others, not so much. But the music’s as good as it ever was, with lessons that are just as applicable today, even in our changed circumstances.

    1. Well, the civil rights struggle and the Vietnam war certainly provided their own levels of rancor and violence. Still, there was something about the protest music of the sixties that had a way of capturing the attention even of people who didn’t intend to be within a hundred miles of a street battle.

      One of the biggest differences I see between then and now is that the songs had sharp, smart lyrics. Another difference is that people got together to sing those songs; they didn’t sit behind a computer and engage in social media snark.

    1. So — you like the music, yes? I’m teasing. I know that you do, and I know how passionately engaged in today’s issues you are. Good for you, and good for us that we still have the music to enjoy.

  9. I’ve always loved folk music and this group! I never saw any of them perform live though. They were brought together by Albert Grossman who was Bob Dylan’s manager.

    When both Joan Baez and Bob Dylan became popular, I loved their guitar and poetry but yearned to hear more variety. Peter, Paul and Mary performed stunning vocals and harmony singing for trio: (https://youtu.be/n_YDQ4Yyqx4)

    Folk music communicates social needs and concerns. I hope millennials become interested in playing musical instruments and voicing concerns for the land and society in a manner that transcends barriers of any kind. Great post!

    1. “Hurry, Sundown” is one I’d forgotten. It’s beautiful, and shows off their vocal abilities perfectly. When you mentioned Baez and Dylan, I thought immediately of “Diamonds and Rust, which Baez wrote herself. I can’t listen to it too often — it’s powerful stuff, and memory-laden, but I’d be willing to say it’s her best.

      Have you come across Rhiannon Giddens? She’s working solo now, after fronting the Carolina Chocolate Drops, and she’s just — well, indescribable. Trained in opera, she’s done everything from jug band to kazoo to more traditional folk. Here’s her version of Elizabeth Cotton’s “Shake Sugaree. One of the best things about her — apart from her music — is that she’s inspiring younger musicians across the country.

      1. As you say, some of these songs are memory-laden and I actually don’t listen to them any longer. I smile when they’re played at a store and sometimes even sing along, but I don’t play them any longer because they are too nostalgic for me.

        Rhiannon Giddens’ future sounds very promising. She has a great voice and hope she inspires future artists.

        Yes, I bought Baez’ “Diamonds and Rust” in the 1970’s because she added percussion and other instruments to her music which I appreciated more than her solo guitar. However, I never really liked her voice. She’s the one credited with bringing Dylan to success. Once Dylan’s career took off, her popularity declined and was never the same.

        1. I also never really cared for Dylans’ voice and some may kill me for saying this. There’s just something about folk music that overrides vocals, and that’s because songwriting and lyrics take precedence, as well as musical instruments. However, that in itself is enough to gain popularity because it has to first reach people’s hearts and it usually succeeds at doing so.

          1. I never grew to appreciate Dylan’s voice, either. For that matter, Leonard Cohen’s songs often sound better to me when they’re covered by someone else. It’s interesting — I prefer Dylan/Cohen for some songs, but they’re few, and somehow more suited to their voices.

            1. I agree. I guess I don’t mind listening to Dylan sing: ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’, but other songs I’d rather hear someone else perform. I suppose the ‘voice’ matter is so subjective. Another one I liked from Baez’ album ‘Diamonds & Rust’ was ‘Fountain of Sorrow’ (written by Jackson Browne).

              I guess you may wonder how come I know some of the American folk singers pretty well. It’s because I completed some of my college years in the U.S.. I also almost always preferred ‘folk’ over anything else because of the lyrics. Of course, the other reason is that Dylan, as well as PP&M and others, became internationally known.

      2. I never chose to listen to the music of PP&M, though I heard them a few times at the recommendation of friends. But I did enjoy Baez when she was first starting out, and I still listen to Diamonds and Rust once in a while, and agree with you on that song, written from the heart.

        1. Isn’t it wonderful that there’s music for every taste? When Charles Aznavour died, I was surprised by my grief, and yet most of my friends either didn’t know who he was, or didn’t like the music. Of course, it’s also true that we’re free to enjoy as many musical genres as we please. I can be as happy with some good swamp rock as a sonata, depending on my mood, and it’s always fun to turn to Pandora and find new music that I’d otherwise never come across.

          1. I really loved Pandora when it came out, years ago. But then they decided not to offer service to Israel, so now I listen to youtube which is not bad. I don’t view the clips. I’m too busy (?). But enjoy the music. Not to speak of a rather large library I’ve gathered over the years… yes, I believe in freedom of taste.

    1. My sister and I would laugh because any car ride with him would include the question “Should we have some music?” and guess what tape was playing, alternating with classical and the Mills Brothers.

      1. That’s funny. What’s even more amusing is that, after I thought about it for a while, I realized that we didn’t have a car with a tape player until I was in college. No one had a car with a tape player — or a cup holder, for that matter. Good grief.

    2. Yes, those musicians were a close-knit group. Some of today’s best studied with the second generation, like Mike and Peggy Seeger. There’s a radio station here in Houston that still plays the full-length version of Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant” on Thanksgiving Day, and Billy Bragg and Wilco took on the task of developing many of Woody Guthrie’s unpublished songs in Mermaid Avenue. Some of the best-known singers and songwriters may have died, but the music’s still alive.

  10. What a wonderful memory you have of Peter, Paul, and Mary! I can only imagine how exciting it was to see them walk into that coffee house. I remember that trio well and I too memorized the lyrics of those songs. I always loved harmonizing voices and yet today, I am drawn to folk-style music and voices that blend and complement each other in harmony.

    1. I think one reason Peter, Paul, and Mary were so acceptable to my parents was that they enjoyed other groups that harmonized well: the Andrews Sisters, the Lamplighters, the Mills Brothers. Even as kids, we sang a lot of rounds, and that gave us the experience of harmony even before we could read music or have any sort of training.

      What surprised me most about our encounter with the group at that coffee house is how down to earth they were, and how quickly they put everyone at ease. That’s quite a gift, too, and it certainly impressed us.

    1. It always astonishes me when I stop to think about how many people alive today never experienced the traumas of the ’60s and ’70s, and it worries me that our educational systems are doing such a poor job of educating students about those years. I do think that music’s one way to introduce historical events, and I know there are people doing just that, which pleases me.

  11. This is my music, too. Let others keep up with the current trends, my heart belongs to Pete Seeger, the Weavers, Peter, Paul, and Mary and their ilk. I always thought that, if I could have one woman’s voice I would choose Ronnie Gilbert or Mary Travers–the confidence they exuded and the fullness of voice just blows me away.

    1. I’ve always been especially fond of Ronnie Gilbert and Holly Near singing together. Their voices fit perfectly, and their convictions meshed well.

      I have been coming to appreciate more contemporary voices, too. It seems as though a new generation of musicians is rising up: talented, and with an appreciation for the history of our country and the variety of its music. If I were choosing a voice, I’d take Mary over Ronnie, but over both I’d take Rhiannon Giddens. I can’t get enough of listening to her, especially when she takes on songs like Lydia Mendoza’s “Mal Hombre”.

      1. Yes, Ronnie Gilbert and Holly Near were so good together. I can’t say I’ve kept up with contemporary singers but I’ll check out Rhiannon Giddens, on your recommendation!

  12. Wow Linda, what a great story! I was a byproduct of the 60’s (born ‘67) but I have always felt like an out of place hippie. PP&M songs were always requested of my 90’s guitar/harmony deck band trio .. I only knew the two songs! Lemon tree is a fav. :D

    BTW, Indigo Girls (my gen hippies) did a song called ‘Hammer and a Nail’ which I’m fairly certain was inspired by PP&M. Have a YT listen .. I think you’ll like it!

    1. I’ve never listened to the Indigo Girls, but “Hammer and a Nail” is a fine song. As a matter of fact, those lines — “I gotta get out of bed and get a hammer and a nail, Learn how to use my hands, not just my head” — pretty well sum up a decision-filled decade of my life. I did like it, and I’m glad you brought it by.

      So you’re a musician, too? You not only can plant lemon trees, you can sing about them — what could be better?

  13. Peter, Paul and Mary were very much part of my ‘growing up’. I sang along, I listened, and I felt that their recording of “Leaving on a Jet Plane” was meant just for me. I do miss the songs of that era and what they represented.

    1. I’ve always associated “Leaving on a Jet Plane” with John Denver rather than with Peter, Paul, and Mary. Obviously given their version’s chart-topping popularity and its commercial use by United Airlines, it must have been everywhere, but I had to find a recording online before I remembered it. Strange. I suppose part of it might be that jet planes weren’t any part of my life until the 1970s.

      It’s interesting to compare which of their songs I favored then with the ones which appeal now. A few appear on both lists, but some I passed over when I was much younger are fresh discoveries. Clearly, re-listens can be as profitable as re-reads.

      1. Jet planes were a big part of my life. When I was at boarding school and university they took me away from home twice a year and they took me home twice a year; they meant sorrow and happiness in equal measure.

        1. I remember you speaking of boarding school, but I never really thought about all the goings and comings that would be associated with that. I would have favored that song, too, I believe.

  14. I remember Peter, Paul and Mary mostly for their Puff the Magic Dragon. It’s double meaning makes it a classic war protest song that gives it an important place in history.

    We never forget our first live concert and your memories from seeing Peter, Paul and Mary are great. Glad you shared them.

    1. Actually, “Puff” wasn’t about either drugs or war: at least, it wasn’t meant to be. There’s a good history here with some comments from the group members as well as from the original lyricist, Leonard Lipton, who ended up co-writing the song with Peter. People read a lot into the song, which apparently irritated both Lipton and Yarrow. Peter said:

      “As the principal writer of the song, I can assure you it’s a song about innocence lost. It’s easier to interpret “The Star-Spangled Banner” as a drug song than “Puff, the Magic Dragon.” This is just a funny rumor that was promulgated by Newsweek magazine [who ran a cover story about covert drug messages in pop music]. There is no basis for it. It’s inane at this point and really unfortunate, because even in Hong Kong it’s not played because of the allegation it’s about drugs. But I assure you it’s not.

      When ‘Puff’ was written, I was too innocent to know about drugs. What kind of a meanspirited SOB would write a children’s song with a covert drug message?”

      Of course, once a song (or poem, or novel, or painting) is out of the artist’s hands, people are going to interpret it as they will. Still, I was glad to learn that “Puff” arose out of Lipton’s reading of Ogden Nash’s poem, “The Tale of Custard the Dragon”.

  15. You are very fortunate to have that experience. Soon after their album came out, my oldest brother and I went to see PP&M at Western IL Univ. It was a terrific show. I still remember the feelings.

    1. It was a memorable night, for a variety of reasons. Their stage presence always seemed warm and welcoming; they had quite a way of connecting with their audience, as you and your brother no doubt discovered. It always seemed to me that they were as delighted to be on stage as their audience was to see and hear them: a good combination.

  16. What an amazing experience. I still have my album and yes, every song is memorized.
    Just as a side note, the area where Mary lived was packed with celebs like Paul Newman and others. When we lived there, we were told to never to approach or talk to them.

    1. It was a great experience. It must have been an equally interesting experience to live in a celebrity-rich environment. I can understand cautions to keep your distance, especially if you still were school age, but I suppose a lot depends on the context.

      A friend who lived in the Village in the 1960s and 1970s often bumped into various musicians in local shops, and said it was so common she didn’t really think about it. Eventually, she got to know some of them, like Tommy Makem and the Clancy Brothers. As she once said, the social barriers weren’t particularly high in that time and place.

  17. Folk music was a pleasant departure from the top 40’s pop music of the early 60’s. Later, it became a refuge from angry and alienated pounding of rock’n roll. While Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs and Joan Baez politicized and polarized the genre, Peter, Paul and Mary had a knack of saying the same things, minus the razor-sharp edge.

    1. Hey! A little respect for that early 60s pop music, please! Who doesn’t remember that itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny, yellow polka dot bikini with affection? or the Purple People Eater? (Well, at least there was Roy Orbison.)

      Dylan, Ochs, and Baez weren’t the first to politicize, of course. Woody Guthrie famously did the same, and the influence of Ma Rainey, Leadbelly, et. al., was pervasive. In today’s context, Guthrie’s “Deportee” probably could start a riot, online or otherwise. Still, as you say, the folk singers of the ’60s were able to popularize a genre that certainly couldn’t be categorized as ‘pop’. The fact that I can remember the lyrics to “Draft Dodger Rag” and “What Did You Learn in School Today?” is anecdotal proof of that.

  18. This is a nice trip down memory lane. PP&M inspired a generation to dig down and express themselves. I can still remember Mary’s influence on fashion with her long dresses and straight, blonde hair.

    1. And I still remember my long dresses. Unfortunately, I didn’t have Mary’s long, straight, blond hair that I coveted, but neither did a single one of my friends, so we commiserated with one another and moved on.

      Speaking of expressing ourselves, if it hadn’t been for PP&M, I never would have learned to play guitar. One of the stupider things I’ve done in 72 years might have been getting rid of my Martin 12 string. I still beat myself up over that from time to time.

      1. We all have made those decisions that, in hindsight, we would like to take back. It’s a chance to practice letting go and learning a valuable lesson. Have a good weekend and don’t iron your hair.

  19. As always, you evoked these memories so well I felt I was there beside you, listening to that inspiring music. There is a radio station here in Chicago that plays new music, and I notice quite a lot of new musicians writing and performing new folk songs. I think the yearning for authentic voices is still felt, thank goodness.

    1. That’s a lovely compliment, Melissa. I wish you could have been there with me for at least one of the concerts. Every one of them was a delight.

      We have fairly rich programming on local stations, too, and it includes some of the newer folk music. Do you know Rhiannon Giddens? If she ever comes to town — or to any other city in Texas — I’ll make every effort to be at that concert. I keep finding pieces from her that I haven’t heard before. “At the Purchaser’s Option” is absolutely stunning.

  20. I loved every inch of this post! I’m also weary of all the political wrangling – but mostly of the mean-spirited nature of most of the wrangling. It’s almost enough to turn a person to anarchy, except that the anarchists might be the meanest of all. Sigh.

    1. It’s a fact that discussion of issues has too often given way to nastiness, snark, and ill-informed verbal bomb tossing. Not being a bomb-tosser, I stay away from the neighborhoods where that’s the preferred form of engagement: social media, for example. There are plenty of ways to stay informed without all that.

      As for anarchy, I never hear the word without hearing Yeats’s words from his poem, “The Second Coming.”

      Turning and turning in the widening gyre
      The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
      Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
      Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
      The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
      The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
      The best lack all conviction, while the worst
      Are full of passionate intensity.

      It cuts a little too close to the bone, these days.

  21. Very fine tribute to a talented trio of musicians, Linda. There’s something special about folk songs, whether they were mankind’s earliest attempts or later ones. I think they truly speak for the masses. Perhaps there are artists (musicians, painters, writers) today who will be the influencers of tomorrow. We certainly could use a return to a kinder, gentler time, couldn’t we?

    1. Kinder and gentler would be good, but so would ‘more truthful’ and ‘more responsible.’ I think we could have them all; at least, that’s what I’m trying for in my own life. The value of groups like Peter, Paul, and Mary — and other musicians who are beginning to appear — is that they help us hold on to visions of that better world, and hold to account people who are actively working against it. In the meantime? We keep on keeping on — which you certainly know about at this point. I hope things are going well!

  22. I was not born until the second half of the 1970s but I remember them from my parents playing them/the radio. They seemed to have gentle songs (as opposed to the later rock that I no longer want to hear) and songs that had a dignity to them. I am so glad they were so rooted in a type of humility that is not seen much now it seems but that was in past times, including in those who were ‘famous’ as it were.

    1. I’ve been thinking about the ways things have changed in the past fifty or more years, especially in the way artists gain recognition and popularity. It used to have to be built up concert by concert, and by word of mouth, along with reviews in magazines and newspapers. Today, there’s a lot of self-promotion happening on social media that bears no relationship to the quality of an artist’s work — everyone’s told that building “followers and friends” is most important. Well, times do change, but quality endures — both personal and artistic. Peter, Paul, and Mary had both.

  23. This is a lovely and timely reminiscence. There is a lot to celebrate about the era when folk music held sway, and I do miss those times. This reminds me also of two very special Iowa occasions of my own. One was hearing Horowitz perform on campus, so thrilling, and the other of having Lily Tomlin in our midst. After her performance, she, also, went to a local spot to the amazement of all who happened to be there. While I wasn’t lucky enough to be among them, I enjoyed the stories of friends who were.

    1. Iowa certainly did — and does — provide experiences that might seem improbable to people who think of it only in terms of corn cribs and silos, and your mention of both Horowitz and Tomlin suggests the range of those experiences.

      My one other encounter with fame while I lived there involved Allen Ginsberg. He’d come to our college to read/recite his poetry. After the evening concluded, we went to a local motel chain coffee shop, and discovered Ginsberg alone in a booth. Of course we went over to say a word of appreciation, and were invited to sit and chat a while. I can’t tell you a thing that we talked about, but I remember coming away with the thought, “Well. That was strange.”

    1. I think we all have musicians who’ve managed to capture the spirit of our times for us, and they remain influential even after their public popularity has faded. It’s fun to compare musical “favorites” with older and younger friends, and interesting how many times the question, “Who is that?” gets asked!

  24. This music played in my childhood home, and it gives me shivers to this day. I was too young to know what all the songs really meant, but the singing and music transported me even then. In recent weeks, I have seen a few tiny hints of hope that we might find some authentic voices again, that there might be some chance of moving beyond “every sort of posturing along the full length of the political spectrum.” I hope so.

    1. Their music does have staying power, doesn’t it? It was the music that made their concerts, not any production value. I have nothing at all against electric guitars or complex staging , but there still is something about a musician standing alone with an acoustic instrument that gives weight to the phrase “making music.” It’s worth noting that the same difference can be seen in the political realm. There’s a good bit of difference between a politician with a well-reasoned message and a political rally that’s all production value, especially if the goal is ‘making (good) policy’.

  25. The thing I loved about PPM was the same thing I loved about CSN, voices blended in harmony. When humans sing together, it is wonderful, when humans sing together in harmony, it’s magical.

    1. That’s one reason I so enjoy some of the a capella groups, like The Persuasions. Years ago, they cut an album called Street Corner Symphony that’s great all the way through. I especially like their version of Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready.

      Beyond all the great music, you’ve reminded me of the line that helped move a certain commercial along the road to fame: “I’d like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony…”

  26. I love this post, Linda. Partly because the album you showed is the first I ever bought with my own money; partly because I’ve seen their performances (and their PBS specials dozens of times) and still listen to their Christmas album and finally because all the words you say about them and about the times are so very true. I still sing in harmony when I listen to their music — maybe a little off key and less harmonious than they are, but I try. It’s the music of a generation and like Mary Travers, it deserves to be remembered long after the era itself has passed.

    1. Our relationship with the group’s been much the same. I bought the same album with babysitting money, I love their Christmas album, and often sing right along. For some, I’ve learned the parts as well as the melody, and that’s special fun.

      Music and culture can seem so chicken-and-eggish to me. Sometimes, I’m tempted to think music reflects culture, and sometimes it seems to shape events. Both are true, of course, but I wonder whether more music made on a human scale might not begin to nudge us toward better behavior. There are hints here and there that it can happen, and I think it needs to be encouraged. Singer-songwriter events and the rise of indie labels clearly are contributing, as are online sources for meeting new musicians, like Spotify and Pandora. That’s how I met Darius Rucker,, and now he’s in my headin-down-the-road rotation.

  27. Linda! I haven’t been over to visit for a while, and have just discovered to my great pleasure that your posts are now Shareable on Facebook. So I’ve shared this moving and nostalgic post on my Facebook Home Page. I will now go and check you out to see if you have succumbed and set one up yourself…just as well you never said never…

    1. How nice of you to visit, Anne. Thanks for sharing the post, too. I’ve still resisted the Facebook page. In fact, given various shenanigans at Facebook, I’m even less likely to join. Now and then someone will remind me that I “have to have” a Facebook page, or an Instagram, or whatever, and I say, “No, actually I don’t.” Crotchety old me!

      1. I would never DARE to be prescriptive like that with you, Linda … also, woe betide anyone who tells ME I have to have/do anything whatsoever….I’ve found being on Facebook a very positive experience thus far, both professionally and personally. But you have to be careful…

  28. Life is an endless cycle between becoming and go again. New voice and new ideas will build on those who were before, and in so doing keep those before alive. I have to admit I never listened much to Peter, Paul & Mary, but no doubt they were an amazing group.

    1. Building on what’s come before is an integral part of ‘folk music.’ One of my favorite Peter, Paul, and Mary songs (“A-Soulin'” is rooted in a tradition that goes back to the 1500s, and the song, changed by multiple artists over the years, still has the resonance of that history in its music and words. I think that’s part of what keeps folk music (or ethnic music, or roots music) alive. People respond to a sense of human history, even when they aren’t able to articulate what they’re feeling.

  29. My answer to your questions: I certainly hope so! Thanks for bringing back some memories. I think they were at their peak popularity before I hit my teens, but I was certainly aware of them growing up.

    1. I think there are a lot of people who hope so, regardless of particular policy commitments or party identification. So I hope, anyway. While we’re waiting to see how things shake out, we can just keep singing.

  30. I remember. They were refreshing. Weren’t they about the same time as the Carpenters, whom I enjoyed a lot? I guess the Carpenters were younger. I didn’t participate in much music outside country and gospel.

    1. Actually, they were active at the same time. The Carpenters formed in 1968, after about a decade of working with other groups. I read that they continued on for fourteen years, so they would have been getting their radio play and tv appearances at the same time as Peter, Paul, and Mary. Granted, PP&M began their career a few years earlier, but they were all part of the same era.

      It’s interesting to look back and realize how much variety there was in those years. There certainly was something for everyone — including good country music that still holds up against today’s “pop country.”

  31. I love the music of that time, although my tastes run more to Dylan, John Hurt, and Rev. Gary Davis. There’s a great documentary of the folk scene by Murray Lerner, called Festival, taken at the Newport Folk Festival. Lots of footage of PPM, Báez, and Dylan, and interviews with attendees about politics. You also might like Baby Let Me Flow You Down, a history of the Cambridge MA folk scene by Eric von Schmidt.

    1. I don’t often run into someone who knows John Hurt. He and Davis were fabulous finger-pickers, although I started on 12-string and spent most of my time listening to Leadbelly. Over the years, I’ve become a fan of delta and north Mississippi blues — so much so that I’ve made pilgrimage to Clarksdale for the Juke Joint festival. I haven’t gone down to the crossroads yet, but you never know.

      Thanks for the recommends. I’ve never heard of von Schmidt, but reading a description of him as a Cambridge analogue to Dave Van Ronk’s enticing. I’m respectful of Dylan, but have to confess I rarely think, “I need some music. Guess I’ll pull out some Dylan.” On the other hand, “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and “Positively 4th Street” are in the regular rotation. This country’s music riches are indescribable.

      1. Blues guitar was a musical starting place for me, there are many more names I could mention, like Robert Johnson and Charley Patton. Hurt is in “Festival” as well.

        1. And if we start adding in modern musicians, guitarists and otherwise, who found inspiration in those early bluesmen, we could be here all night: Tedeschi/Trucks, Joe Bonamassa, Clapton, Sonny Landreth, Albert Lee, R.L. Burnside and his son Duwayne… And the next thousand or two. We surely do have a rich heritage.

  32. This brought back memories of my first live concert, which was in Miami to see Bob Dylan! What a concert.. and then memories of buying tickets for my son and his friends to their first concert as teenagers.

    I remember Peter Paul and Mary very well. I think and not sure if I am correct, but that they surfaced, or at least on my register as a teenager in South Africa. I remember my mom playing some of their songs on the piano.

    Terrific post


    1. Seeing Dylan would have been a wonderful first concert. What would you have thought if you’d known at the time that you were seeing a future Nobel prize winner? I suspect it would have seemed as impossible then as it seemed unbelievable to some people when the prize was announced — including Dylan, apparently.

      South African causes were among those PP&M took up over the years. There’s a good article here, that was written around their 25th anniversary as a group. It’s got some wonderful anecdotes, and some interesting details about how they kept working together even after their paths diverged.

    1. Thank you, Dina. Good music is good music — it can cross over barriers and endure through the years, to our benefit. It’s interesting to contemplate who I still listen to from that long ago time, and why. Sometimes, it’s pure nostalgia, but sometimes it’s because the music still has the power to stir emotion and thought.

  33. What a great memory, well told, and skillfully brought into the present. A resurgence of clear and authentic voices that would be heard above the din? I don’t know. If it happens, it won’t be like it was back then, it will be something new again.

    1. It’s true. “You can’t go home again” has that corollary called “you can’t go back again.” Attempts to recreate a mythic golden era usually don’t work out so well. On the other hand, tossing out the entirety of the past like the contents of a long-neglected refrigerator isn’t so cool, either.

      I suppose that’s why, musically and otherwise, this country’s preferred revising throughout its history: riffing on well-established themes, developing counterpoints, and harmonizing the old with the new. I suspect we’ll be able to do that again. I certainly hope so.

    1. It was a special night for so many reasons, and it is a good memory. I’ve learned that the group often sought to mingle with fans after concerts; they not only were approachable, they approached others. It’s a far cry from the way things often are today.

  34. Fascinating reading the music memories you and others shared here. I’ve long been intrigued with why genres of music can resonate with each of us differently — it’s more than just what reflects the times. Folk music was not uppermost in my musical focus those years though I recall enjoying some of the tunes sung during that time including by Peter, Paul and Mary.

    Years later, having moved to the West Coast, but 20 years ago now, friends a decade younger — the husband whose avocation in Iowa or Nebraska college those years when they met was a musician — held a series of gatherings at their home for contemporaries and included me. They drug out printed lyrics in stapled pages of songbooks they used to distribute to groups for whom he used to perform.

    That summer those years later as the husband played piano, a friend or two offered some guitar accompaniment, we enjoyed singing those songs. I came to appreciate them in ways I hadn’t before, especially as I thought in retrospect of events at the time. Consequently, many of those artists have attracted me to continue listening to them ever since. I’ve often thought in recent years, we need such folk music today.

    1. I think we could use more music of every sort: folk and jazz, sonatas and symphonies, Cajun and Carib. If we had more music, there might be marginally less snarking and carping. At least, that’s what I like to imagine. I think, too, that part of the enduring appeal of folk music is that it’s grounded in lived experience. Noise for the sake of noise, high production value, and an obvious intention to shock won’t necessarily bind people together in the same way that some music can.

      Beyond that, I don’t think it has to be folk music for that binding to take place. I remember the days when Christmas caroling was common: not only in hospitals and nursing homes, but along the streets of our towns. No one had to be a “good singer” to participate, or even be celebrating Christmas. There was a Jewish girl in the class ahead of me in high school who always came along with us despite the (obvious) fact that her family didn’t celebrate Christmas. She just enjoyed the singing, and the pleasure it brought to people.

  35. “is it possible that the old songs might once again stir hearts grown accustomed to seeking not justice, but partiality: not freedom, but advantage? ” Wow, that is so well said. From your lips to God’s ears, as they say. And you end well, it is ours to pick up that hammer and start to sing out. May this tribe increase!

    1. Of course I thought about Inshallah when I was writing this. The content of your songs may differ somewhat, but the act of singing is the same, and the results can be equally striking. As for PP&M’s famous ‘hammer song,’ it’s worth remembering that a hammer is only a tool: what counts is the use to which it is put. The same tool can build a home or smash a skull: it’s the heart behind the hand wielding it that makes the difference. It’s not hard to find examples of both today, and it’s a good reminder that changing hearts is part of the equation, too.

  36. A moving tribute. Also my first-ever concert, when Dad shocked me by asking if I wanted to see my personal gods — in person! — at Cincinnati Music Hall. So he took my brother and me, aged 14 and 12. If all music had stopped after that night, it would’ve served. Fortunately, it and they went on. Now we have to go on, but we have not only the song, but that hammer and bell.

    1. What a great experience that must have been for you and your brother — and what a great dad, to help make the evening possible.

      When I hear ‘Cincinnati,’ I always associate it with the fictional WKRP. When I took a look at the Music Hall site, and its timeline, I couldn’t believe it. It made me realize that not only the city but the state are essentially voids for me. Ask me what I know about Ohio, and I’d have to struggle to get past ‘paddle steamers.’ Whether there actually were such vessels on Ohio canals I haven’t a clue, but they’re there in my imagination. If I ever make it to Michigan, I’ll have to include some Ohio in the itinerary.

      1. Yes, there truly were paddle steamers. I don’t know if any of the genuine article are still operating. When I left Ohio in the ’90s, The Delta Queen, a stern-wheeler, was still cruising. There are a few other facts worth knowing about the state.
        Music Hall? Glorious memories, beginning with that PP&M show, but including some number of performances by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, some with a certain brunette I dated in college. It’s undergone a recent, massive renovation and is reportedly now spectacularly restored. I hope to see it again some day.

  37. I have that album hidden away somewhere. My baby brother and I went to see Peter Paul and Mary in concert and my brother who was more confident than I was, dragged me and my album round he back after the concert and asked for it to be signed. :)

    1. The album was a classic; the fact that so many people still have their copies attests to that. Having an autographed album is even more special — good for that assertive baby brother of yours!

    1. The great thing about their music is that pessimists, optimists and realists alike can enjoy it — and more than enjoy it, be sustained and transformed by it. Just as interesting is the fact that, as time went on and their interests and convictions as individuals changed, they were able to accept one another and continued to perform together from time to time. There’s a lesson in that, too.

  38. I grew up on The Band and Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, as my parents’ music…..time for more voices raised together in protest….

  39. Good lord! It took me forever to scroll down at the end of this comment stream. PPM sure do unite.

    Coming by to tell you they are on PBS .. right now! Newport I believe, early 60’s.

        1. Nope–can’t do it. I have the KUHT passport, and watch a lot of taped programs that way, but apparently the only live stream available is 88.7FM. The program might be available later, taped.

  40. I am embarrassed to admit that until I read this post I had forgotten seeing them in Springfield, MA. The concert was wonderful, just as you describe, but nothing afterwards…at least that I was aware of at the time.
    I go back back forth on your question as to whether such songs would make a difference today. There is certainly a large population that would respond but I’ve read too many unpleasant responses to social media posts or newspaper articles to have much hope that the songs of that era would touch some of the folks making such hateful comments…from either side of the political spectrum. It saddens me that so many cannot converse with each other and find common ground.Enough of that.
    I really enjoyed this post and what it reminded me of from those days. I’d love to be wrong and hope that there is still a place in our society for such.

    1. I’m not sure we can access all of the memories contained in our brains without some sort of trigger to bring them back. Absent the trigger, they just fade away. Sometimes that’s a good thing, I suppose, but I still enjoy poking around in my mental memory box, just to see what’s there.

      I don’t think we can just pick up PP&M’s work, drop it in front of people and have them respond. Some would; some wouldn’t. But, as Dylan suggested, the times have changed, and so has that trio. On the other hand, there are innumerable young, vibrant musicians whose work is just as compelling and who are making a similar impact.

      You may have seen me mention Rhiannon Giddens up above. She and Don Flemons are two whose work I can’t get enough of, either as members of their original group or as individual musicians. Here’s a taste of their early days as the Carolina Chocolate Drops, and here’s a sample of Giddens’s original work. In the case of the second video, it’s worth reading the comments — and look at that fretless banjo! I’m sure I read somewhere that she makes some of her own instruments, too.

  41. My little college in OC managed to book some up and coming artists on their way through the heartland. The best ones were the acoustic concerts. Simon and Garfunkel visited: http://classic.nwciowa.edu/summer2008/lookingback. I have a vague memory, too, of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band visiting, but that one may be lost in the mists of time. I’m pretty sure I heard “Mr Bojangles” there, live, on the stage of the old chapel.
    Peter, Paul and Mary were a class act, for sure.

    1. That was a great article you linked to. The parallels between PP&M looking for a coffee house and Simon and Garfunkel wandering the dorm looking for something to eat is just — well, wonderful. I think Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme was the first of their albums I bought, but my all-time favorite of their work as a duo still is “Hazy Shade of Winter.

      But if I could have only one album, I’d take Graceland. Every cut on that one is a winner. And if I could time travel back to only one concert, it would be the 1987 African concert. Now that I think about it, this would be an appropriate addition to your current series.

      1. Graceland is, naturally, in my top 10. Thanks for the link to Peace Live a River. Stellar tune. Consider it posted.
        On a side note, only a master songwriter can work in “misinformation” and “reconciled” into a tune. Makes me grin. That tune has a tendency to get lost, since it follows on the heels of Me and Julio, another of my favorites.

  42. I ran across your beautiful essay today as I was doing some research about Peter, Paul, and Mary’s concerts in the 60s for a book I’m writing with and about Noel Paul Stookey. I loved your stories of the trio’s after-concert visits with their fans.

    1. I’m glad you found and enjoyed the post. For one thing, your comment was a good reason for me to re-read it myself, and enjoy it all over again. When I compare the ‘protests’ of today with, for example,, the March on Washington, I can’t help but wonder if things might have a different tone, were people like Peter, Paul, and Mary with us to help focus our attention and actions.

      Anyway: thanks for stopping by and commenting, and best wishes on your book.

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