An Evening With
(of Peter, Paul, and Mary)
with guest artists
(David Tamulevich and Michael Hough)
FRIDAY, AUGUST 17th
NAUSET REGIONAL MIDDLE SCHOOL
Peter Yarrow began singing in public during his last year at Cornell while participating in Professor Harold Thompson’s popular American Folk Literature course, colloquially known on campus as “Romp-n-Stomp.” The course was “a highlight of late-1950s student life at Cornell”, Yarrow reminisced, and the ability to sing and play guitar was a prerequisite for enrollment. The experience of performing in front of a large audience was a thrilling one for Yarrow, who discovered he loved it. He branched out to lead community sings on weekends.
Upon graduation he played in folk clubs in New York City, appeared on the CBS television show, Folk Sound USA, and the following summer performed at the Newport Folk Festival, where he met manager and musical impresario Albert Grossman. One day, the two were discussing Grossman’s idea for a new group that would be “an updated version of the Weavers for the baby-boom generation … with the crossover appeal of the Kingston Trio”. Yarrow noticed a picture of Mary Travers on the wall and asked Grossman who she was. The lanky, blonde Kentucky-born Travers was well connected in Greenwich Village folk song circles. To fill out the trio, Ms. Travers suggested Noel Stookey. They chose the catchy “Peter, Paul and Mary” as the name for their group, since Noel Stookey’s middle name was Paul, and rehearsed intensively for six months, touring outside New York before debuting in 1961 as a polished act at The Bitter End nightclub in Greenwich Village. There the singers quickly developed a following and signed a contract with Warner Brothers.
Warner released “Lemon Tree” as a single in early 1962, then followed with the trio’s version of “If I Had a Hammer”, written in 1949 by Pete Seeger and Lee Hays to protest the imprisonment of Harlem City Councilman Benjamin J. Davis, Jr. under the Smith Act. “If I Had a Hammer” garnered two Grammy Awards in 1962. The trio’s first album, the eponymous Peter, Paul & Mary remained in the Top 10 for ten months, in the Top 20 for two years and sold more than two million copies. The group toured extensively and recorded numerous albums, both live and in the studio. In June 1963 they released a 7″ single of “Blowin’ in the Wind” by the then relatively unknown, Bob Dylan. “Blowin’ in the Wind” sold 300,000 copies in the first week of release and by August 17 was number two on the Billboard pop chart, with sales exceeding one million copies. Yarrow recalled that when he told Dylan he would make more than $5,000 from the publishing rights, Dylan was speechless. On August 28, 1963, Peter, Paul and Mary appeared on stage with the Reverend Martin Luther King at his historic March on Washington where their performance of “Blowin’ in the Wind” established it as a civil rights anthem. Their version also spent weeks on Billboard‘s easy listening chart. By 1964 the 26-year-old Yarrow had joined the Board of the Newport Folk Festival, where he had performed as an unknown just four years earlier.
Yarrow’s songwriting helped to create some of Peter, Paul and Mary’s best-known songs, including “Puff, the Magic Dragon”, “Day Is Done,” “Light One Candle”, and “The Great Mandala”. As a member of that folk music trio, he earned a 1996 Emmy nomination for the Great Performances special LifeLines Live, a highly acclaimed celebration of folk music, with their musical mentors, contemporaries, and a new generation of singer/songwriters.
Yarrow was instrumental in founding the New Folks Concert series at both the Newport Folk Festival and the Kerrville Folk Festival. His work at Kerrville has been called his “most important achievement in this arena.”
He co-wrote and produced “Torn Between Two Lovers”, a number one hit for Mary McGregor. He also produced three CBS TV specials based on “Puff, the Magic Dragon”, which earned an Emmy nomination for him. In 1978 Yarrow organized Survival Sunday, an antinuclear benefit, and after a period of separation, he was once again joined by Stookey and Travers..
Yarrow and his daughter Bethany Yarrow, who is also a musician, often perform together. Together with cellist Rufus Cappadocia, they form the trio Peter, Bethany, and Rufus. They released the CD Puff & Other Family Classics. In Spring 2008, the musical special Peter, Bethany & Rufus: Spirit of Woodstock, featuring a live performance of the band, aired on public television.
Yarrow portrayed leftist intellectual Ira Mandelstam in the 2015 film While We’re Young.