Because of Peter, Paul, & Mary, I Learned to Ask the Questions That Were Blowing in the Wind

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When I was a teenager, the Beatles and the rest of the British Invasion were at the top of the musical charts, but I still preferred to listen to folk music.  Of all the folk musicians, Peter, Paul, & Mary had the greatest influence on my life, and partially because I was a female with long, blonde hair, Mary Travers was my idol.

Only a few years ago, Mary Travers died, and as though I knew her personally, I mourned her death. I had grown up with Mary of Peter, Paul, and Mary. On many occasions, her voice nudged me–it was always urging me to think and to ask penetrating questions about the deeper issues of life, and I learned to ask those questions lyrically.

While the Beatles were creating an epic drama over their wanting to hold their girlfriends’ hands, Peter, Paul, and Mary were asking How many roads must a man walk down before they call him a man? In my opinion, Peter, Paul, and Mary simply said more through their music.

I was introduced to Peter, Paul, & Mary at summer camp.  When I was very young, the older campers and counselors would play folk songs; and those by Peter, Paul, & Mary most stood out to me.  As soon as I was old enough, I began begging for a guitar, and when I was a young teenager, I did receive a guitar  for Christmas, and I taught myself to play Peter, Paul, & Mary’s songs. Here.

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In the above photo, I am at the far right end of the line of girls standing. That photo was taken in my sorority house at Ole Miss or The University of Mississippi. I grew up in the South, and were it not for the teachings of Peter, Paul, and Mary, I could easily have been racist, but because of their message, I was committed to viewing life through a larger lens.

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Peter, Paul, and Mary were major figures in the Civil Rights Movement. Only a couple of years after James Meredith attempted to begin college at Ole Miss and the National Guard were forced to camp on the Ole Miss lawn, to see that he would have that opportunity, I began college there. In many ways, I was afraid of what was happening in the South, as a result of the Civil Rights Movement, but long before the changes took place there, I had seen their coming, through the music of Peter, Paul, and Mary. When I was 12-years-old, the Peter, Paul, and Mary version of Where Have All the Flowers Gone? was released. When I was 14-years-old, Blowing in the Wind was released. Because of the music of Peter, Paul, and Mary, I was more aware of human rights, than I might have been otherwise. That awareness has remained with me for over half a century now.

How many years must a mountain exist, before it is washed to the sea?
How many years can some people exist, before they’re allowed to be free?
How many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn’t see?

I am still asking questions like that. Over the course of my life, I have discovered that many issues simply do not have a ready solution and that there are far more questions than there are answers. Yet, I have remained convinced that it is much better to continue asking the important questions than to stick one’s head in the sand, pretending that there are no questions at all.

When Mary Travers died, I physically grieved. I felt silly because the legendary Travers did not know me; yet, according to Scott Peck’s definition of love, she loved me–and she loved millions of others, too.

I define love thus: The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.
― M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values, and Spiritual Growth

Folk Musicians were teachers; they were prophets. They encouraged and edified through the lyrics of their music. They challenged others to grow and to be better people. The Peter, Paul, and Mary Garden Song is their challenge for all of us to water, mulch, and nurture the gardens within our own lives.

I am also reminded of something else that Scott Peck said–that in living our lives, we extend one hand forward, hoping that someone will grasp it and tug us along. By the same token, we should extend our other hand backward, pulling someone else along. There is no doubt about this fact, I have spent my life, reaching toward Mary Travers.

Mary Travers did not have a wimpy, whining voice. By the very strength of her voice and of her gestures, as well as through her lyrics, Travers was a tremendous inspiration to women, who at that time, were still hovering behind men. As a group, Peter, Paul, and Mary influenced the entire world. As a forceful and capable female, Mary Travers made an even greater impact on women. Mary Travers led. I am among the many who followed.

Travers said that The Weavers were the musicians who most influenced her; and Mary Travers [along with Peter, Paul, & Mary] have impacted the lives of countless others. We are all on The Great Mandala–the circle of life, and we bob along, with our hands reached both backward and forward. If we are fortunate and if we live our lives deliberately enough, we influence others, as we cycle around. Peter, Paul, and Mary certainly circled well.

Many girls, during the sixties, strove to style their hair like Mary Travers. fOn the movie Forest Gump, Jenny [with her long, straight, blonde hair] is shown playing and singing one of Peter, Paul, and Mary’s greatest hits Blowing in the Wind.  Peter, Paul, and Mary were more than musicians–they were a presence; they were an entire culture.  One of the highlights of my life was when I saw them perform live at the New Orleans Jazz Festival.I stood on the front row, and I saw every song with them, and I cried.

Mary Travers suffered from cancer several years before she died.  Even though age and her disease morphed her body until it was almost unrecognizable, Mary continued periodically performing until the end. Because of their recordings, Peter, Paul, and Mary are immortal. Although cancer took the body of Mary Travers, it did not take her voice. I still hear it. Listen, and you will hear it, too.

©Jacki Kellum January 11, 2016

Teen Age Idol

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