Mary Travers, Folk Star Who Sang in Protest, Dies at 72

Mary Travers, 1960s anti-war icon and member of folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary, died Wednesday evening in Connecticut from complications associated with chemotherapy. She was 72.

Travers developed leukemia several years ago and underwent a bone-marrow transplant, according to spokesperson Heather Lylis. She had been living in Redding, Conn., with her fourth husband, Ethan Robbins, and died at Danbury Hospital, where her mother had been head of public relations for many years.

“In her final months, Mary handled her declining health in the bravest, most generous way imaginable,” Peter Yarrow, longtime musical partner, wrote on her website. “She never complained. She avoided expressing her emotional and physical distress, trying not to burden those of us who loved her, especially her wonderfully caring and attentive husband, Ethan.”

Peter, Paul and Mary re-imagined the folk music that had been popularized in the 1950s by the decidedly tamer Kingston Trio. The group added an unforgiving political edge to their sweet harmonies and soared to the top of the charts in 1962 with a self-titled debut album featuring singles like the Will Holt song “Lemon Tree,” and “If I Had a Hammer,” originally written by Pete Seeger and Lee Hays. The album reached No. 1 shortly after its release and stayed there for seven weeks, according to the New York Times.

The juxtaposition of songbird Travers’ whimsical recordings with her kinetic live performances (as well as her comely appearance) wooed audiences at a time when the music’s message was as important as the music itself. Peter, Paul and Mary often appeared at political events and were outspoken about their anti-war, pro-civil rights leanings. In 1963, they appeared at the March on Washington. In 1965, they marched from Selma to Montgomery, Ala.

In a 2006 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Travers said that covering Bob Dylan’s “Blowing In the Wind” resonated with her the most because of its political significance.

“Usually the morning paper has one of those questions,” she said. “So how many years must the cannonballs fly before they’re forever banned?”

The group also interpreted Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” and scored big with “Puff the Magic Dragon” and John Denver’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane.”

Mary Allin Travers was born on Nov. 9, 1936 in Louisville, Ky., into a family where both parents were writers. When she was 2 years old, they moved to Greenwich Village in New York, where the singer-songwriter was heavily influenced by the Beatnik and folk scenes.

“I was raised on Josh White, the Weavers and Pete Seeger,” she told the New York Times in 1994. “The music was everywhere.”

Travers is survived by her husband; two daughters, Erika Marshall and Alicia Travers; sister, Ann Gordon; and two grandchildren.