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May 31: Pete Yarrow

May 30, 2016

PeterPaulandMary300Folksinger Peter Yarrow, part of the trio of Peter, Paul and Mary, was born in New York on this date in 1938, to Ukrainian Jewish immigrants. He joined the New York City folk revival scene after graduating from Cornell University (as a psych major), and joined up with Mary Travers and Noel Paul Stookey, under Albert Grossman’s management, to form their harmonizing trio, practicing intensively for six months before debuting at the Bitter End Café. Their first eponymous album, in 1962, which included a cover of two songs by Pete Seeger and the Weavers, “If I Had a Hammer” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”, sold over two million copies. Peter, Paul and Mary was primarily a cover band, releasing tightly harmonized, soft-guitar versions of songs by Bob Dylan (“Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”), John Denver (“Leaving on a Jet Plane”), and other songwriters — but their versions often became far better known and more popular than the originals. Yarrow also wrote the melody for one of their biggest hits, “Puff the Magic Dragon,” with lyrics derived from a poem by Leonard Lipton, a fellow student at Cornell. After Peter, Paul and Mary broke up in 1970, Yarrow pursued a career as a soloist and in several musical combinations (including frequent reunions with Travers and Stookey) and became a welcome fixture at progressive demonstrations, celebrations, and political rallies. He launched Operation Respect, a pro-diversity and anti-bullying educational non-profit, in 2000.

“I think there’s no doubt that music is a great emotional companion and when you introduce words into a person’s psyche — with all the emotion that music can bring — you’re affecting the human condition.” —Peter Yarrow