Mary Travers Biography

Activist, Anti-War Activist, Singer (1936–2009)
Mary Travers was a member of the 1960s folk music trio Peter, Paul & Mary.


Mary Travers was born on November 9, 1936, in Louisville, Kentucky. She grew up in Greenwich Village and joined the folk music scene. Travers sang backup on Pete Seeger albums before forming a trio with Paul Stookey and Peter Yarrow, known as Peter, Paul & Mary. The folk group had hits with "If I Had a Hammer" and "Puff the Magic Dragon." Travers was diagnosed with Leukemia, and died after complications with chemotherapy in 2009, at age 72.

Early Life

Famed folk singer Mary Allin Travers was born on November 9, 1936, in Louisville, Kentucky. Her parents, Robert Travers and Virginia Coigney were both progressive journalists who worked as organizers for the fledgling Newspaper Guild union. When Travers was 2 years old, her family moved to Greenwich Village in New York City. Her parents divorced soon after.

Travers spent most of her childhood and teenage years exploring her love of music at The Little Red Schoolhouse, a liberal private school in the Village. While at the Schoolhouse, Travers grew interested in singer/songwriters such as Paul Robeson and Pete Seeger. She began singing weekly at the Sunday afternoon folk music gatherings in Washington Square Park, where legendary folk artists would often gather to perform.

Seeger Affiliation

In 1955, Mary Travers and three schoolmates were given the opportunity to sing background vocals with Seeger for the album Talking Union. The group of students became known as the Song Swappers, and recorded three more albums with Seeger. They also appeared twice at Carnegie Hall.

Her success as a musician gave Travers the confidence she needed to quit high school in her junior year. When she immediately accepted a role as a folk singer in the Broadway musical The Next President, she truly believed she was on her way to stardom. When the show closed only a few months later, however, Travers's career stalled.

Peter, Paul & Mary

Travers met up with Paul Stookey and Peter Yarrow through music manager Albert Grossman, who was looking to form a folk group made up of a tall blonde woman, a good-looking guy, and a jokester. The folk group, named simply Peter, Paul & Mary, began their career at The Bitter End coffeehouse in 1961.

Their first gig was in 1961 at New York's Bitter End coffeehouse, which was very well-received. Within a year, Peter, Paul & Mary had released their debut (self-titled) album, featuring Pete Seeger tunes like "If I Had a Hammer" and "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?"

By 1963, the group had made three records—Peter, Paul and Mary (1962), Moving (1963), and In the Wind (1963)—and released one of their biggest hit singles, "Puff the Magic Dragon." The song, which was an allegory about peace, brought the group to the forefront of the folk music and Civil Rights Movement. They performed at the 1963 March on Washington, where Martin Luther King Jr. made his famous "I Have a Dream" speech, and their version of the Bob Dylan war protest song, "Blowin' in the Wind," became the fastest-selling single of all time for Warner Brothers, landing at No. 2 on the Billboard charts.

The Legacy

By 1970, however, Peter, Paul & Mary had parted ways in order to pursue solo ventures. Travers pursued a solo singing career, and recorded five albums, including Mary (1971) and Circles (1974). The group re-formed in 1978, touring extensively and issuing many new albums. In their 50-year career together, Travers, Stookey and Yarrow won five Grammys, created 13 Top 40 hits, and saw eight of their albums go gold and five turn platinum. The group also became the voice of a generation of human rights advocates and war protestors.

In 2005, tragedy struck in Travers's life when she was diagnosed with Leukemia. That year, she received a bone marrow transplant and continued to tour. But on September 16, 2009, in Danbury, Connecticut, Mary succumbed to the illness after complications with chemotherapy. She was 72 years old.

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