Peter and Paul are “together a lot these days.”
But it’s not the same without Mary.
Peter, Paul and Mary worked together for 40 years, with a split from 1970-78, first coming together in 1961 under the auspices of manager Albert Grossman in the New York City folk scene. Together they created a body of work that helped bring folk into the pop mainstream, popularizing songs such as Pete Seeger’s “If I Had a Hammer (The Hammer Song),” John Denver’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane” and Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” as well as Peter Yarrow’s “Puff, the Magic Dragon,” which has long been dissected for alleged drug references (which he’s always denied).
Mary Travers’ death in 2009 from leukemia at the age of 72 capped the trio’s legendary career. But Yarrow, 72, says he and Birmingham-raised Noel Paul Stookey — also 72 and a Michigan State University grad — are happy to keep working as a duo, as they will at a Light One Candle benefit concert this week in Dearborn.
“Mary couldn’t make some of the last performances that we were booked for,” Yarrow recalls. “We had canceled because of her fragile health, in some cases twice, and there couldn’t be a third cancellation without really injuring the venues. So Noel and I did a couple of shows together and we made them a tribute to Mary and just told the venue, ‘Whatever happens, happens. Forget about the guarantees and the money, and we’ll see if it works out.’
“And it was wonderful. The spirit was alive.”
Moving on, Yarrow says, he and Stookey are going to be doing “not a lot of concerts, but some concerts. And there will never be another Mary. Mary was Mary. It’s not like Regis and ‘Who’s the new Kathy Lee?’ You just don’t do it.
“So I think what Noel and I will do will be solidity, but it will not be Peter, Paul and Mary. It will be the music carried on ... not in memory of Mary but in terms of understanding that this music has had a great effect and the world still needs this music, so we will continue to play it.”
The duo also plans to keep the trio alive via recordings. Earlier this year it released “Peter, Paul and Mary with Symphony Orchestra: The Prague Sessions,” a 14-song collection that blended concert performances by the trio — including the hits plus more recent material like “The Kid,” “Light One Candle” and Thea Hopkins’ “Jesus on the Wire” — with newly recorded backing by the Czech National Symphony Orchestra.
Peter, Paul and Mary had performed fewer than three dozen shows with orchestras, according to Yarrow, and he says that Travers “really, really wanted to have this chapter of what we had done to become available.” The material on the album is particularly noteworthy because the orchestral arrangements were done by Robert DeCormier, who was the trio’s longtime musical director.
“They were so sympathetic to folk music,” Yarrow explains. “Rather than going overboard with trimmings. We’ve gotten responses saying that this is as good as any album we’ve ever done. And because it’s Bob it’s not as if there were synthetic pieces of music where (the orchestra) was just being conducted. It was set up so the musicians were listening to our voices as if we were in the room singing with them.
“I just think this album by Peter, Paul and Mary stands up strongly and beautifully in comparison to any other album we’ve done and is a testament to the fact this music is not yesterday. It’s vital. It’s alive. It’s crucial. It’s today.”
And, Yarrow adds, he and Stookey are not done mining vaults for more music that will continue Travers’, and the trio’s, legacy. He estimates there are “15 or 20 songs we used to perform that we never put on an album” which he hopes will see release at some point. The holiday season, meanwhile, will see a book/CD combination of “The Night Before Christmas,” with new music by Yarrow and Stookey and narration that Travers recorded less than a month before she passed away.
“Right now we’re still suffering with the mourning process, so we’re dealing with that” acknowledges Yarrow, whose other primary projects these days are Operation Respect and Don’t Laugh at Me (DLAM), which promote tolerance and respect among children. “We feel like we have (Travers’) kind of presence hanging over us; I remember when we finished (‘The Prague Sessions”), one of my associates said to me, ‘Peter, Mary would be proud.’
“That’s kind of the bar we’ve set for anything we do from here on out, I think.”
Peter Yarrow and Noel Paul Stookey perform at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 23, at a Light One Candle benefit in honor of Mary Travers at the Ford Community & Performing Arts Center, 15801 Michigan Ave., Dearborn. Tickets are $30-$150 with proceeds going to the Be The Match Registry of the National Bone Marrow Donor Program. Call 313-943-2354 or visit www.dearborntheater.com.
Send your thoughts and comments to