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Yarrow still celebrates unanimity, strength, human spirit

| Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
Peter Yarrow
Credit: Operation Respect
Peter Yarrow Credit: Operation Respect

Peter Yarrow says he is singing more now than in the final days of his collaboration with Paul Stookey and Mary Travers, but it isn't because of a need to perform.

“Now it is a way of funding Operation Respect,” he says of the school-rooted, anti-bullying campaign he has been working on for 14 years. “There is a staff to pay, maintaining offices.”

Working for a cause seems expected for the singer who was part of Peter, Paul & Mary, a group that made its dedication to causes well-known in appearances at civil rights gatherings in the '60s and Vietnam War protests into the '70s.

He will bring his show Saturday to the Carnegie Lecture Hall. He says the show will be full of the “If I Had a Hammer”-hits, but will not simply be a tribute to the trio or their social consciousness.

No, he says, it will be, as always, about songs and how “singing together can create a great sense of unanimity, strength and human spirit.”

Yarrow, 74, recently was in Newtown, Conn., trying to build a sense of spirit in the community that was ravaged by the deaths of 26 people at a shooting at a school there.

He sees the restorative power such efforts can have and says he is saddened the outlook toward popular music in this country has drifted away from songs with lyrics, songs that mean something, songs that have significance.

He says the leadership at recording companies once consisted of people with a sense of art, but now “they are all simply focused on the making of money.”

He says he has seen the direction of society steer the arts before. The Weavers, a folk group that was an inspiration to him, Stookey and Travers, was blacklisted in the Joe McCarthy crackdown of the '50s, he says. Such actions helped lead groups from socially oriented material.

Peter, Paul & Mary was formed in 1961, had its first album in 1963 and made itself famous in the Civil Rights-aimed March on Washington in 1963. It broke up in 1969 as the members wanted to pursue individual work, but reunited consistently from the '70s on.

Mary Travers died after being treated for leukemia in 2009.

Yarrow admits their type of music is not popular these days, but says it is tough to keep it down because it is “expressing part of the human condition.”

Just as they were inspired by the Weavers, Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger, the heart of folk music stays alive with him and singers from John Gorka to Carrie Newcomer.

He says his efforts with Operation Respect is “my main work” today, but he knows the role music can play.

“We are looking for a shift in the value system in America,” he says.

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-320-7852.

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