Born in 1937 in Baltimore, Maryland, Noel Paul Stookey was raised in Michigan. He moved to New York City at age 20, and was recruited for the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary. Stookey was the comic in the group, and they toured almost continuously until 2009. Stookey wrote the hit "The Wedding Song (There is Love)" in 1969, after he became a born-again Christian. He continues to perform and work with charities.
Noel Paul Stookey was born December 30, 1937 in Baltimore, Maryland, and although he is known as Paul in his career as a musician, he has otherwise been called Noel his entire life. Stookey began playing the guitar at age 11, and formed his first band in high school. His family moved to Birmingham, Michigan when he was 12 years old. He attended college at Michigan State University, where he continued to perform, both solo and with a group called the Corsairs. In college, Stookey discovered his talent as a master of ceremonies, and became comfortable speaking on stage.
Stookey moved to New York City in 1959, and landed a job at a company that specialized in the sale of photographic chemicals. Within a year, he moved to entertaining full-time.
In 1961, Stookey was the emcee, comedian and occasional singer at Gaslight, a club in Greenwich Village. One night, he was approached by Albert Grossman, a manager, who asked him if he was interested in joining a new folk trio. He initially said that he wasn't, but after Mary Travers and Peter Yarrow went to his apartment and the three sang together, Peter, Paul and Mary was born.
In 1969, Stookey wrote what would be his big hit, "The Wedding Song (There is Love)," as a wedding gift for his bandmate Peter Yarrow. While he never intended to release the song, Yarrow and his new wife insisted, so Stookey recorded it for his first solo album, Paul and... (1971). Stookey said that he had asked God how to make the divine present at Yarrow's wedding, and had received the melody and lyrics of "The Wedding Song" in response. Because of this, he felt that he could not claim ownership of the song, so he established the Public Domain Foundation to hold the song's copyright and receive all profits related to it. Money from the foundation is dispersed to charities.
While the trio was firmly entrenched in the social justice and folk-protest movement of the 1960s and '70s, Stookey was the cut-up in the group. Concerts generally featured a comedic solo segment, where Stookey told stories and jokes that had the audience laughing until they cried. Peter, Paul and Mary toured together for nearly 10 years, before disbanding to pursue individual projects. They reunited in 1978 and began touring again shortly thereafter, balancing their solo careers with nearly 50 shows a year, until Travers died in 2009. Stookey still plays solo shows and sometimes performs with Peter Yarrow.
Stookey married Elizabeth "Betty" Bannard in 1963, and they had three daughters. In 1968, Stookey became a born-again Christian, and when the band went on hiatus in 1970, he and his family moved to Maine.
In 1985, Stookey joined Hugworks (then called Celebration Shop), which uses music to help children with special needs. Stookey's spirituality has taken on a more prominent place in his music and life, and he currently collaborates with his wife on multi-faith seminars and performances.
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