Yarrow brings folk talent to Gainesville
Published: Thursday, September 1, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 3:43 p.m.
In 1962, the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary released its self-titled first album and its first single, “If I Had a Hammer,” which hit the Billboard Top 10. By the next year, the group joined Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Ala., and appeared at the 1963 March on Washington — where King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech and the group sang “If I Had a Hammer” and Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.”
What: Folksinger from Peter, Paul and Mary performs two concerts
When: 7:30 p.m. today and Friday
Where: Squitieri Studio Theatre, Phillips Center, 315 Hull Road
Info: 392-2787 or www.performingarts.ufl.edu
Participating in the monumental civil rights events would have the popular trio forever associated with social causes, especially Peter Yarrow, the singer/songwriter/guitarist who would later champion a variety of causes including co-organizing the 1969 March on Washington to protest the war in Vietnam, and founding Operation Respect, a group dedicated to prevent bullying, ridicule and violence in schools.
Yarrow, who performs solo today and Friday in the Phillips Center’s Squitieri Studio Theatre, says it was the 1963 March on Washington with King that forever crystallized for him the connection between music and advocacy — that his own gift for music could be used to institute changes in society.
“Prior to that, both Mary (Travers) and I were political and progressive pack rats, but that was just more the way we felt about things,” Yarrow says in a phone interview. “It wasn’t ‘Have you found an activist focus?’ in terms of our participation until the civil rights movement.
“I love the music but what I love about the music had a lot to do with the quality of authenticity that these were not songs that were made to make money. And the fact that I could experience them and share them by carrying on that tradition links directly with the idea of what the ’60s were all about.”
Just two years earlier, Yarrow had been a successful, solo folksinger in New York’s Greenwich Village when his manager, Albert Grossman (who also managed Dylan) suggested the idea of Yarrow performing with a group.
“Together, we looked for partners for me, and independently we discussed Mary, because I saw a picture of her as a young folklore singer and asked Albert about her, and he said ‘Oh yeah, she’d be great if she’d decide to do it.’
“And then I picked up on Noel (Stookey), who was a comedian then in Greenwich Village. He was one of the three great comedians there at the time; one was Woody Allen and the other was Bill Cosby.”
For the group, Stookey used his middle name, “Paul,” rather than his first name, which he would continue to be known as by the others.
After releasing their self-titled first album in 1962, Peter, Paul and Mary won 1962 Grammys for their recording of “If I Had a Hammer” for Best Performance By A Vocal Group and Best Folk Recording — the latter of which they also won the following year for their recording of Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.”
The trio also produced such hits as the Yarrow-written “Puff (The Magic Dragon),” which hit No. 2 on Billboard’s Top 100 in 1963, and John Denver’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” which hit No. 1 in 1969.
“Mary heard it and she just loved it so,” Yarrow says about “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” “She said ‘I want to sing this’ and we said ‘OK.’”
And while “Puff (The Magic Dragon)” became a favorite song for all ages groups around the world, with versions translated into other languages including Spanish, some pundits at the time speculated that the song must have been about drug use, a description that Yarrow still shakes his head about today.
“Newsweek did an article on that and they alleged that ‘Mr. Tambourine Man,’ ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ and ‘Puff’ had a subtext of drugs, which was absurb,” he says. “In the case of ‘Puff,’ it was ridiculous, although I would imagine that ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ is about a trip, you know?”
Needing a break from constant touring and recording, the three members went their separate ways in 1970, though they reunited in 1978 for a concert tour and continued performing in the decades that followed until 2009, when Travers died from complications of leukemia at age 72.
Now 73, Yarrow continues to appear for various causes and perform — sometimes with Stookey — as Yarrow did Monday at a state fair in the state of Washington.
“We like to do it, but we have our individual pursuits,” Yarrow says about performing with his remaining, longtime musical partner. “Mostly my work is about Operation Respect now and that’s very, very important.
“We’re all over the world. We’re in South Africa, Hong Kong and Israel; we’re going to Palestine this coming year. We’re in Ukraine, we’ve been asked to go to Turkey and we’ve been asked to go to Korea.”
Contact Bill Dean at 374-5039 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.