In addition to the concert, the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and the Lobero Theatre Foundation will host a special reception for the singers, who are recipients of the NAPF’s Distinguished Peace Leadership Award.
Yarrow and Stookey, of course, make up two-thirds of the celebrated trio Peter, Paul & Mary. (Mary Travers, the third member, died of leukemia in September 2009.) The ensemble was founded in 1961, in a manner that was unusual for the time, but has become standard practice in the years since.
Most of the folk groups formed in the late 1950s and early 1960s were based on pre-existing associations. Dave Guard and Bob Shane of The Kingston Trio had known each other since junior high school. The Brothers Four (“Green Leaves of Summer”) met at the University of Washington, where they were all members of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity. The Highwaymen (“Michael, Row the Boat Ashore”) was a quintet of undergraduate friends at Wesleyan University.
In contrast, although they were all residents in New York’s Greenwich Village, Yarrow, Stookey and Travers barely knew — or knew of — one another before they were separately auditioned by Albert Grossman and invited to form a folk trio — with Grossman as manager.
Under Grossman’s brilliant direction, and fueled by their own powerful and charismatic musical personalities, they quickly became a force in popular and folk music, and significant figures in the cultural bloom of President John F. Kennedy’s administration. They sang traditional songs, but more than anything they sang the work of the amazing songwriters all around them.
Many a famous tunesmith dates his or her success from a recording by Peter, Paul & Mary: Phil Ochs, Gordon Lightfoot, Pete Seeger, Tom Paxton and many others, especially Bob Dylan. Joan Baez may have brought Dylan on the stage with her at the Newport Folk Festival — and thus onto the stage of history — but it was Peter, Paul & Mary’s recording of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” that put the free-wheelin’ Dylan into the Top 30 albums of the year, a decisive boost toward mainstream immortality.
Grossman (1926-1986) tends to get passed over lightly in authorized accounts of folk musicians’ careers. He was neither a folk singer nor a songwriter, yet he is possibly the most important character in the whole story. He founded the Chicago folk club, the Gate of Horn, to give the great Bob Gibson and his circle a sympathetic venue (and where Jim McGuinn got his first job playing his 12-string and started him on his way to founding The Byrds and changing his name to Roger).
Grossman also co-founded, with George Wein, the Newport Folk Festival. A year after he put together Peter, Paul & Mary, he became Dylan’s manager and retained that position until 1970. Other clients included Odetta, John Lee Hooker, Ian & Sylvia, Ochs, Lightfoot, Richie Havens, the Pozo-Seco Singers, Todd Rundgren, The Band, The Electric Flag, Jesse Winchester, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and — after she left this last band — Janis Joplin.
Founding Peter, Paul & Mary was not the least of his accomplishments — it is very close to the top of the list — but neither was it beginner’s luck. He has a couple of memorable scenes in D.A. Pennebaker’s inimitable documentary of Dylan’s tour of England in 1965, Don’t Look Back. “It’s a great movie,” Dylan told Pennebaker. “I just wish it wasn’t about me.”
Tickets to the concert and more information about the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s reception, are available at the Lobero Theatre box office, 33 E. Canon Perdido St. in downtown Santa Barbara or 805.963.0761, or click here to order online.
— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.