Fifty years ago, in May of 1962, folk group Peter, Paul and Mary released their self-titled debut album. The group went on to become one of the most, if not the most, successful folk groups in recording history. Songs like “If I Had A Hammer”, “Leaving on a Jet Plane”, and “Puff, The Magic Dragon”, among others, are still familiar tunes decades after the group made their debut performance at The Bitter End in Greenwich Village in 1961.
Peter, Paul and Mary were closely identified not only with the folk music scene, but also with key political issues of the 1960s. The area of the Village with which they are most closely associated is the South Village, an area which GVSHP is actively seeking expanded landmark protections.
Mary Travers was born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1936, but her family moved to the Village when she was three years old. Needless to say, the Village played a vital role in shaping her thought process and career. In a 1988 interview, she shares that
“People sang in Washington Square Park on Sundays, and you really did not have to have a lot of talent to sing folk music. You needed enthusiasm, which is all folk music asks. It asks that you care. Even if you’re playing spoons, have a good time doing it…So for me it was a social mechanism. I would go to the White Horse Tavern and sit in the back room with the Clancy Brothers. I’ve never been a drinker, but I would sit with them. They drank and I had a wonderful time with my Coca-Cola.” Peter, Paul and Mary website
Travers attended Elisabeth Irwin High School (a 2012 Village Award winner) where, through her musical director, she came into contact with singer Pete Seeger. Together with a few of her classmates, Mary sang a number of songs with Seeger in 1955. Mary later lived in an apartment on MacDougal Street.
Noel Paul Stookey moved to the Village in 1959. While working a number of jobs, he wrote songs and performed folk music, most notably at the Cafe Wha? at 115 MacDougal Street. Paul also performed as a stand-up comic; according to the Peter, Paul and Mary website, he had a “very convincing imitation of an old-timey flush toilet. The Cafe Wha? had a big sign up when he was working there that said: ‘Noel Stookey, the Toilet Man.'”
The site also notes that Mary met Paul while he was performing at the Gaslight Cafe and that eventually they would sing there together. The Gaslight Cafe, also known as the Village Gaslight, opened in 1958 and operated in the basement of 116 MacDougal Street. It closed in 1971.
Growing up in New York City, the Village folk scene was a natural draw for Peter Yarrow. Future Peter, Paul and Mary manager Albert B. Grossman first saw Peter perform at the Cafe Wha? in 1960; Peter also spent time in places such as the Gaslight Cafe. Grossman initially brought Peter and Mary together, and Paul would join later to complete the group.
The trio first performed at The Bitter End in 1961 and gained a strong following that lasts to this day. Their songwriting resonated with their generation and played off the political climate of the 1960s, which included events such as the 1963 March on Washington and the controversial Vietnam War. Peter, Paul and Mary’s impact continues today, and we’re proud to say that it all began in Greenwich Village!