Peter Yarrow

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Peter Yarrow
Peter Yarrow in 2008
Background information
Born (1938-05-31) May 31, 1938 (age 76)
New York, New York, U.S.
Genres Folk
Occupation(s) Singer-songwriter
Record producer
Instruments Vocals
Years active 1960–present
Associated acts Peter, Paul and Mary

Peter Yarrow (born May 31, 1938) is an American singer who found fame with the 1960s folk music trio Peter, Paul and Mary.[1] Yarrow co-wrote (with Leonard Lipton) one of the group's most famous songs, Puff, the Magic Dragon. He is also a political activist and has lent his support to causes that range from opposition to the Vietnam War to the creation of Operation Respect.[1]

Peter Yarrow was born in Manhattan to Ukrainian-Jewish immigrant parents, Bernard and Vira Yannoshevitch. He graduated from the High School of Music and Art, which is now called LaGuardia High School. His singing career began after he graduated from Cornell University, in 1959.[1][2] Soon, Yarrow met (Noel) Paul Stookey and Mary Travers in New York City's Greenwich Village, center of the mid-20th century American folk music revival.[1] By 1962, Warner Bros. Records released the trio's first album, the eponymous Peter, Paul & Mary. The album remained in the Top Ten for ten months and in the Top Twenty for two years and sold more than two million copies. The group toured extensively and recorded numerous albums, both live and in the studio. In October 1969, Yarrow married Mary Beth McCarthy of Willmar, Minnesota. Paul wrote The Wedding Song (There is Love) as his gift for their wedding and first performed it at St. Mary's Church in Willmar. Yarrow has two adult children. In 2000, he co-founded Operation Respect.[1]

On behalf of Operation Respect, Yarrow has appeared, pro bono, in areas as diverse as Hong Kong, Vietnam, Bermuda, Croatia, South Africa, Egypt, Argentina and Canada. In all, the program has been presented to many educational leaders and more than 10 million children. In some form, the project has reached nearly ⅓ of all elementary and middle schools in America; at least 20,000 schools, in all.

In 2003, a Congressional resolution recognized Yarrow's achievements and those of Operation Respect. The Congressional Caucus gave him a standing ovation.[3]

In August, 2006, he met with representatives of 35 organizations, including the League of Cities, the Academy of Education, Americans for the Arts, and Newspapers in Education, to unite them in a commitment to "...shifting the American educational paradigm, to educating the whole child; not just in academics but in character, heart, social-emotional development. As we Jews say, 'let him be a mensch first; everything else will work out'."

Yarrow has appeared as a performer on 61 different albums, including his daughter Bethany Yarrow's 2003 CD, Rock Island.


Music and career[edit]

Yarrow began to sing with Mary Travers, in December, 1960; when Paul Stookey joined them, they chose the name "Peter, Paul and Mary" for their folk trio.[1]

Yarrow's songwriting helped to create some of Peter, Paul & Mary's most famous songs, including Puff, the Magic Dragon, Day is Done, Light One Candle, and The Great Mandala. As a member of that folk music trio, he earned a 1996 Emmy nomination for the Great Performances special LifeLines Live, a highly acclaimed celebration of folk music, with their musical mentors, contemporaries and a new generation of singer/songwriters.

Yarrow was instrumental in founding the New Folks Concert series at both the Newport Folk Festival and the Kerrville Folk Festival.[4] His work at Kerrville has been called his "most important achievement in this arena."[5]

He co-wrote Torn Between Two Lovers, a number one hit for Mary McGregor. He also produced three CBS TV specials based on Puff, the Magic Dragon, which earned an Emmy nomination for him. In 1978, Yarrow organized Survival Sunday, an anti-nuclear benefit and, after a period of separation, was once again joined by Stookey and Travers.[1][6]

Yarrow and his daughter Bethany Yarrow, who is also a musician, often perform together. Together with cellist Rufus Cappadocia, they form the trio Peter, Bethany and Rufus.[7] They have recently released the 11-song CD Puff & Other Family Classics.

In Spring 2008, public television stations around the country aired the musical special, Peter, Bethany & Rufus: Spirit of Woodstock. It featured 17 songs, which were performed before a live audience at the Bearsville Theatre.

Social activism[edit]

Yarrow has long been an activist for social and political causes.[1] It wasn't always popular. According to The New York Times:

As their fame grew, Peter, Paul and Mary mixed music with political and social activism. In 1963, the trio marched with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King in Selma, Alabama, and Washington, D.C.. The three participated in countless demonstrations against the war in Vietnam. They sang at the 1969 March on Washington, which Mr. Yarrow helped to organize. Though their activism provoked a steady stream of death threats, they were never harmed. "But for years, I used to bite my fingernails on stage," [Mary] Travers says. "There you are and look like the back porch light, and stare out at 12,000 or 15,000 people. Any one of whom could have had a gun."[8]

Yarrow produced and coordinated many events as a part of the anti-Vietnam War movement, including the winter and summer Festival for Peace at Madison Square Garden and Shea Stadium, respectively. These events raised funds for anti-war political candidates and featured dozens of folk, rock, jazz and blues stars such as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Paul Simon, Miles Davis, Tom Paxton, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Steppenwolf. They were the first major concerts at such venues designed solely for such a purpose. The 1969 anti-war March on Washington, a.k.a. The National Mobilization to End the War, in which some half-million people participated, was the largest of these efforts.

Yarrow's involvement in politics continued throughout the decades.[1] He also had a variety of contacts with politicians; he performed at John Kerry's wedding.[9]

His leadership in the campaign to free Soviet Jewry inspired another generation. Of the anthem Light One Candle, Rabbi Allison Bergman Vann has written

Peter Yarrow’s now famous song, which was written in 1983, became a defining song for my generation of high school and college students to become activists, to make the world a better place.

I heard Peter Yarrow singing that song on the steps of the Capitol, in 1987, twenty years ago next week, during the march to free Soviet Jews. Listening to him sing, surrounded by literally thousands of like-minded individuals, I learned of my obligation to change the world; to engage in tikkun olam, repair of our broken world. And, during that incredible day, I knew that we could, indeed, change the world.[10]

Yarrow received the Allard K. Lowenstein Award, in 1982, for his "remarkable efforts in advancing the causes of human rights, peace and freedom."[11] In 1995, the Miami Jewish Federation recognized Yarrow’s continual efforts by awarding its Tikkun Olam Award for his part in helping to "repair the world."[11][12]

In 2005, Yarrow performed in Ho Chi Minh City at a concert to benefit the Vietnam Association of Victims of Agent Orange; Yarrow pleaded with the Vietnamese for forgiveness of the United States.[13]

Yarrow serves on the Board of Directors of the Connecticut Hospice.[5][14]

In New York City, on November 1, 2008, Yarrow performed across the city for volunteers who worked for The Presidential Campaign of Senator Barack Obama.

On October 3, 2011, Peter, his son and his daughter made an appearance at Liberty Park during the Occupy Wall Street protests, playing songs such as 'We Shall Not Be Moved' and a variation of Puff the Magic Dragon.

Operation Respect[edit]

In an effort to combat school violence, Yarrow helped start Operation Respect,[15] which brings to children, in schools and camps, a curriculum of tolerance and respect for each other's differences.[1][16] Founded in 2000, Operation Respect is a non-profit organization designed to promote civility and conflict resolution into the curriculum of U.S. schools on a nationwide basis.[1] The project began as a result of Yarrow and his daughter Bethany and his son Christopher having heard the song Don't Laugh At Me (written by Steve Seskin and Allen Shamblin) at the Kerrville Folk Festival. Operation Respect later quoted Yarrow as saying

"Since I have lived a life of social and political advocacy through music, one in which I had seen songs like Blowin' In the Wind, If I Had a Hammer, and We Shall Overcome become anthems that moved generations and helped solidify their commitment to efforts like the Civil Rights Movement and the Peace Movement, I knew I had just discovered a song that could become an anthem of a movement to help children find their common sensitivity to the painful effects of disrespect, intolerance, ridicule and bullying."[17]

Operation Respect's stated mission reads as follows: "To assure each child and youth a respectful, safe and compassionate climate of learning where their academic, social and emotional development can take place free of bullying, ridicule and violence."[18]

The DLAM Programs[edit]

Operation Respect developed the Don't Laugh at Me (DLAM) programs, one for grades 2-5, another for grades 6-8 and a third for summer camps and after-school programs. These programs make use of music and video along with curriculum guides based on highly regarded conflict resolution curricula developed by the Resolving Conflict Creatively Program (RCCP) of Educators for Social Responsibility (ESR). Because of the generosity of its supporters, Operation Respect is able to disseminate the DLAM programs free of charge. More than 145,000 copies of the curriculum have been distributed to educators since Operation Respect began. Operation Respect also offers assembly programs and professional development workshops designed to provide educators with the tools for effective implementation.

In 2003, a resolution in Congress recognized the achievements of Peter Yarrow and Operation Respect.[16]

In March 2008, Yarrow told Reuters

"Operation Respect has been my main and all-consuming work for the past 10 years. My perception is that the kind of bullying, humiliation that goes on in children's schools leads to high rates of depression that was virtually unknown when I was young and the high suicide rate of teenagers which we know is almost inevitably caused by bullying or mean-spiritedness. It is a reflection of the role models that young people observe on TV shows like a lot of the reality shows. It is also part and parcel of the characteristics in the adult world of America."[19]

Personal life[edit]

Peter Yarrow's parents were Jewish, born in Ukraine; the family name was changed from Yaroshevitz to Yarrow after they immigrated to Providence, Rhode Island.[20] Yarrow has cited Judaism as one of the roots of his liberal views.[16]

Yarrow received a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from Cornell University in 1959.[1] While at Cornell, he became friends with Thomas Pynchon and Richard Fariña.

While campaigning for 1968 presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy, Yarrow met McCarthy's niece, Mary Beth McCarthy, in Wisconsin.[21] They were married in October 1969.[16]

Yarrow is a longtime resident of Telluride, Colorado.

In 1970, Yarrow was convicted of, and served three months in prison, for taking "improper liberties" with a 14-year-old girl who went with her 17-year-old sister to Yarrow's hotel room seeking an autograph.[22][23][24][25] He has since apologized for the incident: "It was an era of real indiscretion and mistakes by categorically male performers. I was one of them. I got nailed. I was wrong. I'm sorry for it."[22]

In 1981 Jimmy Carter granted Yarrow a presidential pardon for the crime.[22][23][24][26] Nonetheless, it has occasionally become a campaign issue for politicians he supports.[24][27][28] In 2004, Representative Martin Frost of Texas, a Democrat, cancelled a fund-raising appearance with the singer after his opponent ran a radio advertisement about Yarrow's offense;[24] in 2013 Republican politicians called on Democratic Congressional candidate Martha Robertson to cancel a scheduled fundraiser with Yarrow.[27][29]

In December 2000, Yarrow's Larrivee acoustic guitar was stolen on an airplane flight. In early 2005, fans spotted the guitar on eBay. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) recovered it in Sunny Isles Beach, Florida, and returned it to Yarrow. He did not press charges, as the person it was recovered from had not stolen it.[30]

Yarrow performed the world premiere of the Colonoscopy Song on the CBS early morning program The Early Show on March 9, 2010.[31]

Yarrow's son, Christopher, is a visual artist who owns The Monkey & The Rat[32] emporium in Portland, Oregon.


Peter, Paul and Mary[edit]


  • 1972 Peter US #163
  • 1973 That's Enough For Me US #203
  • 1975 Hard Times
  • 1975 Love Song[5]

Peter, Bethany and Rufus[edit]

  • 2008 Puff & Other Family Classics


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Smith-Peters, Bruce, For Peter Yarrow, musical activism never stops, Chico Enterprise-Record, 21 February 2013. Retrieved 27 February 2013.
  2. ^ Peter Yarrow Biography
  3. ^ "About the Honorees". National Music Council of the United States. Retrieved 28 September 2013. 
  4. ^ The Birth of New Folk Competitions at Kerrville PDF (75.5 KB), by Rod Kennedy
  5. ^ a b c Peter Yarrow - Aviv Productions, Ltd
  6. ^ article about Peter Yarrow
  7. ^ Myspace: Peter, Bethany and Rufus
  8. ^ Patricia Grandjean (31 July 1994). "60's Heroes Keep On Keeping On". The New York Times. 
  9. ^ John Aloysius Farrell (21 June 2003). "At the center of power, seeking the summit". Boston Globe. Retrieved 25 September 2013. 
  10. ^ Rabbi Allison Bergman Vann, "Chanukah Sermon" (30 November 2007)
  11. ^ a b Bio at
  12. ^ Where Are They Now? - Peter, Paul and Mary bmusic Newsletter No.86, September 21–27, 2003
  13. ^ "Yarrow calls for Vietnam apology,
  14. ^ A Night to Remember for The Connececticut Hospice, Thanks to the Legendary Peter, Paul and Mary Trio
  15. ^
  16. ^ a b c d Pat Launer, "Lighting Ten Million Candles," San Diego Archive (October 2006).
  17. ^ About Us - History - Creating Compassionate, Safe, Respectful Environments - Operation Respect
  18. ^ Operation Respect: Mission
  19. ^ Belinda Goldsmith (6 March 2008). "Just A Minute With: Peter Yarrow". Reuters. 
  20. ^ "Peter Yarrow to star at SMDS-RJA gala". St. Louis Jewish Light. 1 April 2008. Retrieved 29 September 2013. 
  21. ^ Peter, Paul, & Mary History, page 3
  22. ^ a b c Trex, Ethan, 11 notable presidential pardons, CNN website, 5 January 2009. Retrieved 3 March 2013.
  23. ^ a b Alex Roth (3 March 2006), "Jet fighter, 'Jet Plane' singer forged a bond," San Diego Union-Tribune.
  24. ^ a b c d Tim Grieve (28 January 2005), "Howard Dean or anybody but?" Salon.
  25. ^ Alan M. Dershowitz (15 December 1991), "Winning Was Everything," New York Times.
  26. ^ Jurist Legal Intelligence, Presidential Pardons, University of Pittsburgh Law School[dead link]
  27. ^ a b Fundraiser for Martha Robertson ’75 Causes Controversy, The Cornell Daily Sun, 17 September 2013. (Retrieved 28 September 2013.)
  28. ^ Zremski, Jerry, Reed’s opponent under fire for booking Yarrow at fundraiser, The Buffalo News, 12 September 2013. Retrieved 29 September 2013.
  29. ^ Stop the political roller coaster, Star-Gazette, 27 September 2013. Retrieved 29 September 2013.
  30. ^ People: Mel Brooks, Orlando Bloom, Peter Yarrow, International Herald Tribune, 3 February 2005
  31. ^ The Early Show web page
  32. ^ The Monkey & The Rat website

External links[edit]