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Mary, Happy Birthday and Get Well Soon

By       Message Chuck Simpson     Permalink
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November 9. As America celebrates an astounding electoral exhibit of possibilities for true progress, a fitting time to celebrate the 72nd birthday of an American who's fought for social justice for over 45 years. A woman who fought for civil rights in the 1960s. The fight that made Tuesday's victory possible. For over 45 years, she's fought for justice in all its forms the world over, in the process proving that one individual, or three, really can make a difference.

Through folk music. With messages of love and hope and defiance. As she explained:

"It's not about politics, it's about humanity, it's about humanity, it's about finding a way to live".

"We came from the folk tradition in a contemporary form where there was a concern that idealism be a part of your music and the music a part of your life ... the music becomes an extension of your caring and your soul--there's no schism between what you can do on stage and who you are. What we're trying for is a kind of health--and that's what we were always trying for."

For over 45 years, she and her partners haven't merely sung the songs. They've lived the songs. As she explained:

"The songs tell you, 'If you're going to sing me, you have to live me, too."'

Mary Allin Travers, born in 1936 of two politically active newspaper reporters in Louisville, Kentucky. Soon after, the family moved to Greenwich Village in New York City, where Mary became musically active. She was first recorded at age 17 as a member of Song Swappers, a folk group that sang background for Pete Seeger. While in high school she twice sang with the group at Carnegie Hall. Although she never planned on becoming famous:

"I had never wanted to be famous. It never occurred to me. It never occurred to me that I was going to be a singer. I sang as a hobby, something I did for fun."

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After high school, Mary worked at a clothing boutique, at day jobs in advertising and waited tables at Cafe Wha? while living in a third-floor walk-up apartment in the Village. Mary didn't live for money, so she could accumulate expensive but worthless possessions. Mary lived for music - her path to personal creativity and discovery. Mary spent Sundays at Washington Square, singing with friends in a series of impromptu groups.

In 1961 Mary connected with Noel Paul Stookey and Peter Yarrow. Peter Paul and Mary premiered at the Bitter End coffeehouse. After rehearsing for seven months, the group was signed by Warner Brothers and released their first album in March, 1962, accompanied by a single, Lemon Tree.

Their second single was released that fall. Pete Seeger's If I Had a Hammer was a hit, resulting in the trio being awarded two Grammy Awards. That song, which later became almost an anthem of America's Civil Rights Movement, was the trio's hopeful shout for freedom and Mary's expression of overflowing vibrant energy:

Bob Dylan's Blowin' in the Wind became an instant hit after being released by the trio in June 1963. In August they performed the song to a quarter-million people in Washington as part of the assembly where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his I Have a Dream speech from the Lincoln Memorial.

The following year the trio became involved with the anti-war protest movement and worked for Eugene McCarthy's presidential campaign - a beginning of their many years of protest against the war in Vietnam.

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Peter Paul and Mary quickly became famous. They used their fame to increase their level of protest, and broadened their activities to protest social injustice worldwide, in all its forms.

In the spring of 1965 Mary, with her mother, rejoined Martin Luther King, marching from Montgomery to Selma, in the process singing If I Had a Hammer under threat of violence. Two generations of protestors. Years later that number expanded to three, when Mary, her mother and her daughter all were arrested at an anti-apartheid protest. Mary referred to this as an example of "bridging the generation gap".

Later in 1965 the trio introduced Canadian Gordon Lightfoot to the United States, including in their See What Tomorrow Brings album his Early Morning Rain. In my opinion one of the most hauntingly beautiful songs ever performed:

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The author is a retired professional civil and structural engineer, reformed attorney, fierce Progressive, policy junkie, vociferous reader, lifelong learner, aspiring writer and author of the crime-thriller "The Geronimo Manifesto". He is also a (more...)

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