Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A "Love Letter" to Peter, Paul and Our Dear, Sweet Mary Travers

I waited a very long time to be able to see Peter, Paul and Mary in concert. In June of 2006, I saw them at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia. Mary died today. I'm terribly sad, but thrilled that I was able to see them in concert. This is the letter I sent to them after the performance:

Deat Peter, Paul and Mary,

In 1967, my friends in high school chorus and I started a Hootenanny Band. We performed around Birmingham, Alabama. Most of the music that we performed was yours. It was the most glorious music I'd ever heard because of the tight harmonies, pristine voices and magnificent instrumentation.

I was not a great soloist, nor was I a great guitarist. But I blended well with the group. We were lucky enough to have numerous opportunities to play at the Green Springs Armory in Birmingham, and I was brave enough to sing solo every week at assemblies at Ramsay High School. I sang the school news! I would take your melodies and put my own words to them. For example:

(to the tune of Puff the Magic Dragon)
Miss Shook announced the Bagpipe
Tomorrow would be sold
It costs you only 15 cents
In silver not in gold.

Tacky... I know. But as a result of that, I was invited to sing for George Wallace at the Birmingham Civic Center. He was not pleased with my song. Bull Conner was outraged! My song was about Wallace's "school house stand" at the University of Alabama and the fact that Martin Luther King had "one-upped him" when he won the Nobel Peace Prize.

I would never have had the courage to sing such a song without your inspiration. I had watched the fire hoses and police dogs in downtown Birmingham from my father's office window. We both wept as we watched what was going on in the streets below. My father believed that the greatest commandment of all was "to love thy neighbor as you love yourself." He told me on that occasion that the key to that was to "love yourself." Although I've struggled with that part of it a bit, loving my neighbor became my life quest. I've tried all my life to make people "put down their stones."

After your participation in the Selma march, you were "cussed and discussed" in Alabama....but I followed your lead and my father's. I've tried always to make my mark by simply being kind to everyone that I've met and by trying to do something good for someone every day.

I lost faith in most everything when the Kennedys and Martin Luther King were assassinated. It was horrible. I turned away from politics and decided to keep my circle of influence small...but to keep the fire burning in a simple way....with kindness and love for everyone that crossed my path. It has given me great satisfaction that I've been able to do that for many, many years as a high school teacher in Montgomery, Alabama. Montgomery is a city that may only fully see the candle that I and others light when the generation that was here for the bus boycott dies out... IF they didn't teach their children to hate. I fear too many have... so the challenge will continue. I pray that my children will follow my lead. They have so far.

Throughout the years since the late 60s, I've listened to your music for further inspiration to "keep the faith" and stay true to my quest. Your performances on PBS would have me in goose-bumps and tears... and would solicit a "happy butt dance" of joy!! (Of course, I would have to watch them in a back room while my husband watched NASCAR!!) Unfortunately, I can't sing your music anymore. My vocal cords had been damaged. It is the truly the most heartbreaking thing that has ever happened to me. But, I can still love and smile and give others hope when they desperately need it.

When my mother died in my arms, I got a huge dose of mortality. It hit me like a Mac truck! It was then that I began to list all the things I wanted to do before I die. Seeing you in concert was first on my list. I tried to see you the year that your tour was canceled because of Mary's illness. I finally got to see you at the Kimmell Theater in Philadelphia last Saturday. I laughed. I sang (very quietly, as I sound like I'm under water now!). I wept for joy. Saturday was the most glorious day I've ever had!! THE most glorious!!!

Mary, I must tell you that the story of your illness, your hospital tips and your fear of your Republican donor was one of the highlights of the show for me. I have been reading the notes and prayers on your website... looking for news of your progress... for some time. To see you Saturday night.... looking soooooooooo cute with your short hair..... was a dream come true!!

I want to thank you all for the life-time of pleasure, joy and inspiration that you have given me. I hope that you all will continue to do so for others. It must give you great satisfaction to know that the younger generations are embracing your music and your message. It is always wonderful to see you perform with children, and it was nice to see the kids in the Kimmell on Saturday night. I also want to wish you every possible happiness in your lives.

Your message is not only "blowing in the wind," it is living in the hearts of thousands like me. I thank you from the bottom of my heart and the center of my soul.

Bless you all,
Carol Kelly
Montgomery, AL

Rest in Peace, Mary Travers.


  1. Carol, I am so honored to call you my friend. You never cease to amaze me and I mean that in the most sincere way! Thank you for sharing this with all of us. Mary L.

  2. Thank you for putting into words the feelings of a whole generation. God bless Mary.

  3. I was on the Selma march with them. Brave and committed to justice for all. I wish her family well and express my condolences.