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April 28, 2010

Peter, Paul and Mary's Last Soaring Song

Posted: 02:58 PM ET

THE LEGENDARY FOLK GROUP PETER, PAUL AND MARY RECENTLY LOST ONE OF THEIR OWN.  MARY TRAVERS PASSED AWAY IN SEPTEMBER.  IN THIS LKL WEB EXCLUSIVE, PETER AND PAUL TALK ABOUT LIFE WITHOUT MARY, THEIR MUSIC, AND WHY THEIR NEW ALBUM, "PETER, PAUL AND MARY WITH SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA: THE PRAGUE SESSIONS," MEANS SO MUCH TO THEM.

By Quinn Brown
LKL Producer

It's hard to understate the importance and impact of folk music.  What started with Woody Guthrie and then was popularized by New York's Greenwich Village scene in the ‘60’s (and its luminaries including Pete Seeger, Karen Dalton, and Bob Dylan), echoes to this day with any artist that picks up an instrument and sings something besides "baby, please don't go."

Folk music is defiant, topical, rousing, poetic.  Its influence reached the likes of Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Marley, The Beatles, Public Enemy, Iggy Pop, Joni Mitchell, Bono, and countless others.

As pervasive as the music is, it may never have reached the masses if not for Peter Yarrow, Noel "Paul" Stookey and Mary Travers - Peter, Paul and Mary.  For those who could not handle the lo-fi recordings of Guthrie or the aural snarl of Dylan, the folk trio was more than just palatable.  Their three-part harmony was a symphony of voice (and a lone acoustic guitar).  And the masses took notice.

So it is fitting that the last testament of the folk legends ("Where Have All the Flowers Gone", "Puff the Magic Dragon", "Leaving on a Jet Plane") is Peter, Paul and Mary with Symphony Orchestra:  The Prague Sessions (Rhino Records).  Over their five-decade career, the group performed with an orchestra around 30 times and, as Yarrow says, "Those were special to Mary.  She had a strong feeling about those concerts."

Mary Travers passed away September 16, 2009 due to complications from chemotherapy for treatment of leukemia.  The trio and longtime collaborator Robert DeCormier spent the final years of Travers' life compiling 14 live stage performances and enlisting the Czech Symphony orchestra to bring her final dream to fruition.  The result is a record of soaring sounds– voices and strings that swell to the point where the songs aren't folk so much as they are hymns.  "This feels like the last page of the photo album.  It's honoring Mary and the importance of the music we shared," says Stookey.

Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey sat down with CNN to discuss the symphony project, Mary Travers' impact on their lives and her final days, and performing as a duo.

LKL Blog: The origins of the new album went back many years?

Peter: It was a part of our history as an extension. There was a part of our history that had not been shared. It was very special to Mary and to all of us because there was a certain kind of musical exhilaration and passion in our performances when we would perform with the symphony orchestra. These arrangements, which were done by Bob DeCormier, were the closest to it–with my objective mind making the comparison–like Puccini wrote the score. It's just characterization between the orchestra and the singers. And that gives you another sense of the dimension and the passion because it’s really well written. If it's not, it's really wrong because with folk music it has to be really right for it to work in the context with being united as you sing.

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Filed under: Entertainment • LKL Web Exclusive • Music • Paul and Mary


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