Peter, Paul and Mary was one of the most successful folk-singing groups of the 1960s. The trio is comprised of Peter Yarrow, who had come to Greenwich Village with a psychology degree from Cornell, Noel Paul Stookey, a fledgling stand-up comedian from Michigan State University, and Mary Travers who was already known for her work in the Song Swappers, a folk group that had recorded with Peter Seeger. The three decided to work together, encouraged by the folk impresario Albert Grossman, who became their manager.
The group began its career in 1961, playing in the Bitter End, a coffee shop in New York City's Greenwich Village, and then played at other seminal folk clubs like Chicago's Gate of Horn and San Francisco's Hungry I. Following their appearance at the famed Blue Angel nightclub in New York, they embarked on a rigorous touring schedule that lasted nearly ten continuous years. They recorded their first album, Peter, Paul and Mary, with Warner Brothers Records in 1962. The album was listed on the Billboard Magazine Top Ten list for ten months, and it remained in the top one hundred for over three years.
By 1963 they had recorded three albums, released the now-famous song 'Puff the Magic Dragon', which Yarrow originally wrote in 1958, and performed another major hit, their cover of 'If I Had a Hammer' at the March on Washington, which is best remembered for Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous speech, I Have a Dream. For many years after, the group was at the forefront of the civil rights movement and other causes promoting social justice. They were deeply involved in the anti-Vietnam War crusade, consistently performing at demonstrations, fund-raisers, and teach-ins. In 1969, Yarrow co-organized the March On Washington, and Peter, Paul & Mary sang before the half-million people who had come together for that landmark event.
'Puff the Magic Dragon' is so well-known that it has entered American and British pop culture. The lyrics for Puff were based on a poem by Leonard Lipton, a nineteen-year-old Cornell student. Lipton was inspired by an Ogden Nash poem titled Custard the Dragon, which is about a realio, trulio, little pet dragon. Lipton passed his poem on to his friend Peter Yarrow who added a tune and additional lyrics to transform the poem into the song believed by many people to refer to smoking marijuana; it became a hippie anthem. The authors of the song deny any intentional drug reference
By 1970, Peter, Paul & Mary had earned eight gold and five platinum albums, but decided to separate and pursue separate solo careers. Not unexpectedly, it was an important cause which reunited Peter, Paul & Mary in 1978. Peter was helping to organize Survival Sunday, an anti-nuclear benefit at the Hollywood Bowl, and he asked Paul and Mary to join him on stage. In 1992, Peter, Paul & Mary re-signed with Warner Brothers Records and recorded Peter, Paul & Mommy, Too, their second children's album. Peter, Paul & Mommy, released in 1969, was the name Mary's daughter Erika once gave her mother's group. The Grammy-nominated album and video, taped at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Majestic Theatre in New York with a live audience of children and their families, is a full-length concert which aired as an Emmy-nominated, hour-long special on PBS. The group was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999.
February 2004 saw the release of the trio's long-anticipated career retrospective, a boxed set called Peter, Paul and Mary: Carry It On, as well as their first new studio album in over a decade, In These Times.