SPARTA, NJ – Peter Yarrow sang, strummed, and smiled for Sussex County residents last night, as he entertained them, and they entertained him in return, at a special mini-concert and book signing, coordinated by Sparta Books. The concert was held at the Sparta Middle School, and attended by many from all age groups.
Yarrow is one of the members of the group, Peter, Paul & Mary, which was formed in 1961, with Yarrow, Paul Stookey, and Mary Travers. The group released favorite hits, such as “Puff, the Magic Dragon,” “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” and sang a well-known version of “If I Had a Hammer.”
The trio during their career performed at famous events, including the March on Washington in 1963, where Dr. Martin Luther King ‘s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, captured a special place in history. Peter, Paul & Mary were there performing, “If I Had a Hammer.”
In 1970, the group broke up, pursuing solo careers, and occasionally reuniting for special concerts together. Travers passed away in 2009, after a battle with leukemia, and Yarrow, and Stookey have continued on their solo paths.
The group always held a special place in their hearts for children, and their goal was to always feature a children’s song on each album.
Yarrow participated in several animated shows for “Puff, the Magic Dragon,” with one in which he portrayed Jackie’s father, the young hero of the story. The band, which wrote the song in 1963, always denied the myths surrounding what others have alleged about the song, and the urban myths, which have since followed it. The song, the band has always said, was intended to be a song about the loss of children’s innocence.
The children indeed last night, were mesmerized, as they surrounded Yarrow onstage, with Yarrow passing the microphone to many of them, asking them to sing snippets of “Puff, the Magic Dragon.”
Throughout several songs during the show, and, at the end, several members of the audience gave Yarrow a standing ovation.
“I grew up with his music, I’m here because I listened to Peter, Paul & Mary,” said Antoinette Downes, of Sparta. “I was singing in a group, and we used to sing all their music.”
Tony Pasquarrello of Lafayette, was another person there to see Yarrow perform, and in a different light, said he knows Yarrow personally.
Many of the fans there were like Downes, who had been listening for years. There were many young children, some as young as toddlers, who also enjoyed Yarrow’s music.
"We're very excited to have Mr. Yarrow here," said Mindy Kemper, Sparta Books' Event Manager.
“I’m delighted to be here,” Yarrow told them all, at the beginning of the show, when he gave high-fives to some small children, and wore the hats of others from in the audience.
Yarrow has written several children’s books, which were on display, and available for purchase, and autographing, last night. Books included: “Puff, the Magic Dragon,” “The Peter Yarrow Songbook: Let’s Sing Together!”, “It’s Raining, It’s Pouring,” and “I’m in Love with a Big Blue Frog.”
One poignant moment of the evening, was when Yarrow asked members of the audience to remember Travers.
“I was wondering if you’d like to sing a song for Mary Travers,” he suggested to them. “We lost Mary three years ago this past September. She continues, her voice is within us.”
Yarrow continued, “Mary made it very special for a lot of young girls, to say the truth. She was always truthful, and, she was very beautiful.”
Yarrow and the audience sang, “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” in Travers’ memory.
Bullying was another topic important for Yarrow that evening.
“Children have a right to go to school without being bullied,” he said. “It’s not just a kids’ problem, it’s a societal reality. We have a society that needs healing. We need humanity again.”
Yarrow had the audience sing along with him in his song, “Don’t Laugh at Me,” and the lyrics, “Don’t laugh at me, don’t call me names, don’t get your pleasure from your pain, in God’s eyes, we’re all the same, someday we’ll all have perfect wings.”
The song is part of a program, he said, that teachers can obtain for free, the “Don’t Laugh at Me,” program. Click here for more information. www.operationrespect.org.
He also sang the song, “I’m in Love with a Big Blue Frog,” which was recorded in 1967, when he described it was not approved for those who were white, to have relationships with people of color. He remarked at the progresses made in the United States, including now having President Barack Obama lead the nation.
Just prior to the audience lining up across the length of the auditorium to have Yarrow autograph their books, Yarrow closed with “Puff, the Magic Dragon.”
“I wrote this song 50 years ago,” he said, asking the children as he passed the microphone how they knew the words. “There aren’t too many songs that are written that people know the words after 50 years.”
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