Today is an exclusive live video interview with Peter Yarrow, for the interview series “Interviews with the Leading Edge.”
In this series of interviews, I engage with people who are on the leading edge of transformational change, doing work to further the consciousness revolution and how it is manifesting in culture, politics and spirituality, in order to help bring along a more enlightened society.
Peter Yarrow is one such person.
Peter Yarrow is a living legend – he was a member of the famed folk group Peter, Paul and Mary, along with Mary Travers and Noel Paul Stookey. They came out of the Greenwich Village folk music coffeehouse scene of the early 1960’s, along with their fellow peers Bob Dylan, Odetta, Tom Paxton, Phil Ochs, Dave Van Ronk, and others – all directly inspired by such legendary folk singers as Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, The Weavers and Burl Ives.
They were all brought together in 1961 by Albert Grossman, the famed manager of many of the 1960’s folk music musicians. They practiced for a number of months and then began performing in Greenwich Village.
They recorded their first self-titled debut album, Peter, Paul and Mary, the following year. It included such well-known songs as “Lemon Tree,” “500 Miles,” and the Pete Seeger-written tunes “If I Had a Hammer” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” The album was listed in the Billboard Magazine Top Ten for 10 months, including seven weeks in the #1 position.
In 1963 the group released another iconic folk song, “Puff, the Magic Dragon.” In that same year Peter, Paul and Mary performed “If I Had a Hammer” and “Blowin’ in the Wind” at the 1963 March on Washington, best remembered for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
In the interview above, there is a clip from them singing “If I Had a Hammer” at the March on Washington, with Peter reminiscing and discussing how that event became a pivotal moment in his and the band’s perspective.
Because Albert Grossman was both the manager of Peter, Paul and Mary and Bob Dylan, he connected them all up, leading to Peter, Paul and Mary singing a number of Dylan’s songs, including “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “The Times They Are a-Changin’ “, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” and “When the Ship Comes In.”
Except for a brief hiatus from playing as a band in the early to mid-1970’s, Peter, Paul and Mary played continuously for close to 50 years, until Mary Travers passed away in 2009. Since then he has played solo, with Noel Paul Stookey, and with his daughter Bethany and her musical partner Rufus Cappadocia.
Peter wrote some of the most well-known songs performed by Peter, Paul and Mary, including Puff The Magic Dragon, Day Is Done, The Great Mandala and Light One Candle. His musical creativity has always gone hand in hand with his commitment to social justice and equity in society.
He and the band have been activists for peace and justice since their beginnings, and Peter, both with Peter, Paul and Mary, and by himself, has been on the front lines since the Civil Rights Movement of the early 1960s, the anti-war movement of the late 60’s and early 70’s, and the anti-nuke movement of the late 70’s. Over the years, many issues have moved Peter to commit his time and talent: equal rights, peace, the environment, gender equality, homelessness, hospice care and education.
Peter’s most recent efforts are focused on a non-profit he founded in 1999 called Operation Respect, which disseminates a free program utilizing music and video along with curricular materials designed to establish a safe, compassionate and nurturing environment in schools and summer camps across America.
Peter Yarrow’s life and work, culminating in the founding and leadership of Operation Respect, embraces the premise that if each person finds a way to articulate his or her own voice and joins with others, together they can become a powerful force for the transformation of society.
As Peter says, “We’ve lived through a time in which people have felt they could forge their own future and make a better world.” He continues, “We may not have achieved our dreams in the time frame that we once believed was possible, but the magnitude of what is yet to be achieved only confirms the importance of our commitment. This is a crucial time in U.S. history, where the avenues of possibility are opening up like never before. Knowing this, we can’t stop now.”
I met with Peter Yarrow at Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs, NY – he was in Saratoga Springs appearing at Northshire Books as part of a book tour to support his new book, “Peter, Paul and Mary: 50 Years in Music and Life.”
In this engaging and indepth conversation, Peter talks about his beginnings as a musician; how Peter, Paul and Mary began; how the March on Washington in 1963, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., turned them into serious activists; being in Dallas, TX the day President John F. Kennedy was killed and what that was like; his life as an activist; and what he meant with the line he uses at the end of the new book, “Maybe it’s about recognizing the spirit of goodness in us all…the caring for the least of us…and the work that is to be continued…”
This is a very inspiring interview, about the life of a man who has shown how one person, living a principled life, can make a positive difference in the lives of so many. The reality is that we all have that capability to impact others.
I want to give special thanks to Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs, NY for allowing us to film the interview there, and also to Northshire Books, of Manchester, VT and Saratoga Springs, NY, for helping to facilitate the interview.