Folk music lost an iconic voice earlier this week when Mary Travers, highly regarded for her part in the popular harmonizing trio Peter, Paul and Mary, died at the age of 72.
Travers died on September 16, at Danbury Hospital in Danbury, CT, after a long battle with leukemia. She was first diagnosed in 2005 and successfully underwent a bone marrow and steam cell transplant. Ultimately, though, the on-going treatments to fight the disease proved too much for the singer.
“Mary succumbed to the side effects of one of the chemotherapy treatments,” explained a statement from the trio’s publicist. “We all loved her deeply and will miss her beyond words.”
Despite her illness, Travers had continued to tour with Peter, Paul and Mary through the group’s sparse spring 2009 itinerary. In recent years, the trio maintained a schedule of about 25 shows per year, according to their official Web site.
But by the summer, Travers’ treatments began to take their toll, leaving counterparts Peter Yarrow and Noel “Paul” Stookey to continue performing as a duo in tribute to their ailing friend.
“I have no idea what it will be like to have no Mary in my world, in my life, or on stage to sing with,” Yarrow said in a statement about his collaborator of nearly 50 years. “But I do know there will always be a hole in my heart, a place where she will always exist that will never be filled by any other person.”
Stookey added, “I am deadened and heartsick beyond words to consider a life without Mary Travers and honored beyond my wildest dreams to have shared her spirit and her career.”
Born on November 9, 1936, Travers got her start in music early in life. Her family moved from Kentucky to Greenwich Village a couple years after her birth and settled in the same building as folk legend Pete Seeger. After singing with a group called The Song Swappers as a teen, Travers eventually moved on to performing in concert with Seeger himself.
By the early 1960s, Travers had joined forces with Yarrow and Stookey, who were also part of the New York folk scene at the time. The trio released its self-titled debut in 1962, holding the top spot on the Billboard charts for six consecutive weeks and staying in the top 10 for more than 80 weeks.
Throughout their career, the singers released dozens of albums and compilations and gained recognition for their skillful and carefully crafted harmonies. Peter, Paul and Mary became best known, perhaps, for popularizing the pop culture staple “Puff, the Magic Dragon.”
In addition to music, Travers dedicated much of her life to activism, first championing civil rights and moving on in later years to the wider issue of human rights.
“We’ve learned that it will take more than one generation to bring about change,” Travers is quoted on her musical trio’s Web site. “The fight for civil rights has developed into a broader concern for human rights, and that encompasses a great many people and countries. Those of us who live in a democracy have a responsibility to be the voice for those whose voices are stilled.”
Photo credit: Kevin Mazur