With or without hammer, songs of folk trio stress social issues

February 26, 1992|By Debra K. Minor | Debra K. Minor,Orlando Sentinel

The more things change, the more they stay the same. This is certainly true for Peter, Paul and Mary.

Three decades ago, the folk trio confronted civil rights and social issues in music they played around New York's Greenwich Village.

Today, some of those same issues are being addressed in music they perform as a group and in solo projects.

"Human-rights issues always top the list in a global sense," Mary Travers said during a phone interview from her Manhattan office. "But under that umbrella, you could put ecology because it certainly is a human right that we have some air to breathe. But we're interested in human-rights issues, health issues and ecological issues, both domestic and global."

In the early 1960s, Noel Paul Stookey, a struggling stand-up comedian from Michigan State University in East Lansing, met Peter Yarrow, a graduate of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. Ms. Travers already was known around New York City's Greenwich Village for her work with an ensemble that recorded with folk legend and activist Pete Seeger. The three decided to work as a group and, in 1962, released their self-titled first album. It was the vehicle that brought folk music to the attention of millions of Americans.

The album remained on Billboard magazine's Top 10 for 10 months and the single "If I Had a Hammer," with its message about civil rights, became a big success. By 1970, after hits including "Puff, the Magic Dragon," "Blowin' in the Wind" and "Leaving on a Jet Plane," the trio had earned eight gold and five platinum albums.

That year also marked the end of a music era as the group parted ways to pursue individual interests. The trio reunited in 1978 for a short tour and now plays about 60 dates a year, allowing time for individual work. For Ms. Travers, that means about 20 solo benefit concerts each year in support of an array of issues, including women's and civil rights.

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