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, an organization that promotes tolerance and civility in schools.[1]

Yarrow has appeared as a performer on 61 different albums.[citation needed]

Early life[edit]

Peter Yarrow was born in Manhattan to Ukrainian Jewish immigrant parents, Bernard and Vira Yannoshevitch. The family name was changed from Yaroshevitz to Yarrow after they immigrated to Providence, Rhode Island.[2]

He graduated from the High School of Music and Art, which is now called LaGuardia High School. He then attended Cornell University, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in psychology in 1959.[1] While at Cornell, he became friends with Thomas Pynchon and Richard Fariña.

Music and career[edit]

Yarrow’s singing career began directly after graduation.[1][3] He began to sing with Mary Travers in December 1960. In 1961, manager and musical impresario Albert Grossman put them together with (Noel) Paul Stookey, and they chose the name Peter, Paul, and Mary for their folk trio.[1] They began performing 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 10 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.

Yarrow’s songwriting helped to create some of Peter, Paul and 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 antinuclear benefit, and after a period of separation, he 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 released the CD Puff & Other Family Classics. In Spring 2008, the musical special Peter, Bethany & Rufus: Spirit of Woodstock, featuring a live performance of the band, aired on public television.

Social activism[edit]

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

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 antiwar 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 antiwar 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 has 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 song "Light One Candle,” Rabbi Allison Bergman Vann has written:

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.[11]

Yarrow serves on the board of directors of the Connecticut Hospice.[5][12]

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.’”

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, Yarrow, 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 2000, in an effort to combat school violence, Yarrow helped start Operation Respect,[13] a nonprofit organization that brings to children, in schools and camps, a curriculum of tolerance and respect for each other’s differences.[1][14] 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:

Operation Respect’s stated mission reads as follows: “To [ensure] 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."[16]

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 one third of all elementary and middle schools in America—at least 20,000 schools, in all.

The DLAM Programs[edit]

Operation Respect developed the Don’t Laugh at Me (DLAM) programs, one for grades 2 through 5, another for grades 6 through 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. 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 March 2008, Yarrow told Reuters:

Personal life[edit]

Yarrow has cited Judaism as one of the roots of his liberal views.[14]

While campaigning for 1968 presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy, Yarrow met McCarthy’s niece, Mary Beth McCarthy, in Wisconsin.[18] They were married in October 1969[14] in Willmar, Minnesota. Paul Stookey wrote “Wedding Song (There Is Love)” as his gift for their wedding and first performed it at St. Mary’s Church in Willmar. They had two children, but later divorced. [19]

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.[20][21][22][23] 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.”[20]

In 1981 Jimmy Carter granted Yarrow a presidential pardon for the crime.[20][21][22][24] Nonetheless, it has occasionally become a campaign issue for politicians he supports.[22][25][26] In 2004, Representative Martin Frost of Texas, a Democrat, canceled a fundraising appearance with the singer after his opponent ran a radio advertisement about Yarrow’s offense;[22] in 2013 Republican politicians called on Democratic Congressional candidate Martha Robertson to cancel a scheduled fundraiser with Yarrow.[25][27]

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 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.[28]

Yarrow performed the world premiere of the Colonoscopy Song on the CBS early morning program The Early Show on March 9, 2010.[29]

Yarrow has also acknowledged being an alcoholic, and sought treatment for the disease. He considers himself in recovery.[30]

Yarrow is a longtime resident of Telluride, Colorado. Yarrow’s son, Christopher, is a visual artist who owns The Monkey & The Rat[31] emporium in Portland, Oregon.

Awards and honors[edit]

Yarrow received the Allard K. Lowenstein Award in 1982 for his “remarkable efforts in advancing the causes of human rights, peace, and freedom.”[32] 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.”[32][33]

In 2003 a congressional resolution recognized Yarrow’s achievements and those of Operation Respect. The Congressional Caucus gave him a standing ovation.[14][34]


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 Smith-Peters, Bruce, For Peter Yarrow, musical activism never stops, Chico Enterprise-Record, 21 February 2013. Retrieved 27 February 2013.
  2. ^ "Peter Yarrow to star at SMDS-RJA gala". St. Louis Jewish Light. 1 April 2008. Retrieved 29 September 2013. 
  3. ^ Peter Yarrow Biography
  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. ^ "Yarrow calls for Vietnam apology,
  12. ^ A Night to Remember for The Connececticut Hospice, Thanks to the Legendary Peter, Paul and Mary Trio
  13. ^
  14. ^ a b c d Pat Launer, "Lighting Ten Million Candles," San Diego Archive (October 2006).
  15. ^ About Us - History - Creating Compassionate, Safe, Respectful Environments - Operation Respect
  16. ^ Operation Respect: Mission
  17. ^ Belinda Goldsmith (6 March 2008). "Just A Minute With: Peter Yarrow". Reuters. 
  18. ^ Peter, Paul, & Mary History, page 3
  19. ^ "Peter Yarrow." Jewish Virtual Library, 2008 edition. [1]
  20. ^ a b c Trex, Ethan, 11 notable presidential pardons, CNN website, 5 January 2009. Retrieved 3 March 2013.
  21. ^ a b Alex Roth (3 March 2006), "Jet fighter, 'Jet Plane' singer forged a bond," San Diego Union-Tribune.
  22. ^ a b c d Tim Grieve (28 January 2005), "Howard Dean or anybody but?" Salon.
  23. ^ Alan M. Dershowitz (15 December 1991), "Winning Was Everything," New York Times.
  24. ^ Jurist Legal Intelligence, Presidential Pardons, University of Pittsburgh Law School[dead link]
  25. ^ a b Fundraiser for Martha Robertson ’75 Causes Controversy, The Cornell Daily Sun, 17 September 2013. (Retrieved 28 September 2013.)
  26. ^ Zremski, Jerry, Reed’s opponent under fire for booking Yarrow at fundraiser, The Buffalo News, 12 September 2013. Retrieved 29 September 2013.
  27. ^ Stop the political roller coaster, Star-Gazette, 27 September 2013. Retrieved 29 September 2013.
  28. ^ People: Mel Brooks, Orlando Bloom, Peter Yarrow, International Herald Tribune, 3 February 2005
  29. ^ The Early Show web page
  30. ^ Neil Scott. "Peter Yarrow Talks About His Recovery, His Music, and the Truth Behind Puff the Magic Dragon." Recovery Today Online, April 2010. [2]
  31. ^ The Monkey & The Rat website[dead link]
  32. ^ a b Bio at
  33. ^ Where Are They Now? - Peter, Paul and Mary bmusic Newsletter No.86, September 21–27, 2003
  34. ^ "About the Honorees". National Music Council of the United States. Retrieved 28 September 2013. 

External links[edit]