The folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary were the biggest stars of the 1960s Folk revival, emerging from coffeehouses in New York City’s Greenwich Village to achieve considerable commercial success. While that same success led some to dismiss them as overly smooth and lacking in Folk “authenticity,” it’s inarguable that the enduringly popular threesome – who remained a popular attraction for nearly half a century — were instrumental in popularizing the form, and in exposing the songs of Bob Dylan (with whom they shared manager Albert Grossman) and other Folk icons to mainstream listeners. Their Pop-friendly image aside, Peter Yarrow, Noel Paul Stookey and Mary Travers came up through the same Greenwich Village folk scene that spawned Dylan, Phil Ochs, and Dave Van Ronk, and didn't allow commercial considerations to stop them from being active on behalf of a variety of sociopolitical causes.
Peter, Paul and Mary was originally organized in 1961 by Albert Grossman, who was looking to put together a commercially viable act with talent from the New York Folk community. The new threesome scored instant success with its self-titled 1962 debut album, which featured such popular tunes as "Lemon Tree," "500 Miles," and Pete Seeger's "If I Had a Hammer," and spent ten months in Billboard's Top Ten.
In 1963 — the same year that the trio reached No. 2 on the Billboard pop chart with "Puff the Magic Dragon" and their version of Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind" — they performed "If I Had a Hammer" at the historic March on Washington, the Civil Rights event remembered for Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. "Blowin' in the Wind" was just one of many Dylan compositions that the trio covered during their career, and they are often credited for their role in popularizing his songs.
Peter, Paul and Mary continued to perform and record successfully through the 60s, scoring their highest-charting hit (and only No. 1 single) in 1969 with the John Denver-penned "Leavin' On A Jet Plane." But the trio broke up the following year to pursue separate careers. Their solo efforts wouldn't match their collective success, although Yarrow would produce and co-write Mary MacGregor's 1977 soft-Pop smash "Torn Between Two Lovers, and Stookey's "The Wedding Song (There is Love)" — which he originally wrote for Yarrow's wedding — would become something of a romantic standard.
Peter, Paul and Mary reunited in 1972 at a Madison Square Garden concert in support of George McGovern's presidential campaign, and again in 1978 at an anti-nuclear-power event. They reformed on a more permanent basis in 1981, and continued to tour and record new albums until Mary Travers' death in 2009 following a long battle with leukemia.