Gone But Not Forgotten: The Decade in Deaths
Singer Mary Travers performs a song circa 1973. Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Mary Travers, one-third of the popular 1960s folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary who were perhaps best known for their hit "Puff (The Magic Dragon)," died in a Connecticut hospital after battling leukemia for several years. She was 72.

The band's publicist, Heather Lylis, said Travers died Wednesday at Danbury Hospital.

Bandmate Peter Yarrow said that in her final months, Travers handled her declining health with bravery and generosity, showing her love to friends and family "with great dignity and without restraint."

"It was, as Mary always was, honest and completely authentic," he said. "That's the way she sang, too; honestly and with complete authenticity."

Noel "Paul" Stookey, the trio's other member, praised Travers for her inspiring activism, "especially in her defense of the defenseless."

"I am deadened and heartsick beyond words to consider a life without Mary Travers and honored beyond my wildest dreams to have shared her spirit and her career," he said.

Mary Allin Travers was born on Nov. 9, 1936 in Louisville, Ky., the daughter of journalists who moved the family to Manhattan's bohemian Greenwich Village. She quickly became enamored with folk performers like the Weavers, and was soon performing with Pete Seeger, a founding member of the Weavers who lived in the same building as the Travers family.

With a group called the Song Swappers, Travers backed Seeger on one album and two shows at Carnegie Hall. She also appeared (as one of a group of folk singers) in a short-lived 1958 Broadway show called "The Next President," starring comedian Mort Sahl.

It wasn't until she met up with Yarrow and Stookey that Travers would taste success on her own. Yarrow was managed by Albert B. Grossman, who later worked in the same capacity for Bob Dylan.

In the book "Positively 4th Street" by David Hajdu, Travers recalled that Grossman's strategy was to "find a nobody that he could nurture and make famous."

The budding trio, boosted by the arrangements of Milt Okun, spent seven months rehearsing in her Greenwich Village apartment before their 1961 public debut at the Bitter End.

Their beatnik look - a tall blonde flanked by a pair of goateed guitarists - was a part of their initial appeal. As The New York Times critic Robert Shelton put it not long afterward, "Sex appeal as a keystone for a folk-song group was the idea of the group's manager ... who searched for months for `the girl' until he decided on Miss Travers."

The trio mingled their music with liberal politics, both onstage and off. Their version of "If I Had a Hammer" became an anthem for racial equality. Other hits included "Lemon Tree," "Leaving on a Jet Plane" and "Puff (The Magic Dragon.)"

They were early champions of Dylan and performed his "Blowin' in the Wind" at the August 1963 March on Washington.

And they were vehement in their opposition to the Vietnam War, managing to stay true to their liberal beliefs while creating music that resonated in the American mainstream.

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