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Peter Yarrow of “Peter, Paul, and Mary” performs at UNCG

Staff Writer

Published: Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Updated: Wednesday, November 10, 2010 17:11


Picture a modern day form of Mahatma Ghandi, with the dedication of Mother Teresa, carrying the message of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior, and the benevolence of Mr. Rogers, and to top it off, throw in multiple platinum selling albums and national bestselling children’s books – this is just the start. In the Hawkins Conference Room at the O’Henry Hotel, Mr. Peter Yarrow addressed the UNCG Friends of the Library Board of Directors on why he has switched from focusing on music to focusing on writing. Yarrow explains his point of view, “If you really want to get a message across, you must use literature. Music is fragmented, while literature becomes timeless.” Mr. Peter Yarrow may have first gained fame from his huge success with the musical trio “Peter, Paul, and Mary,” but this notoriety is arbitrary compared to what he has accomplished off the stage.

Yarrow refers to songs and speakers who lack a message as, “Shrimp boats,” and indifferently says that these people “are not my cup of tea.” He believes that music with a positive message is the most important kind and emphasized that there is a strong lack of this in modern artists. Think about it, what is the point of having a soapbox to speak from, when you really don’t have a thing to say? Yarrow began by explaining that Josh White, Pete Seeger, and Woody Guthrie are examples of his influences; musicians with a message and pioneers of the folk scene.  Yarrow famously marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr in 1963. At this time, advocating civil rights was extremely unpopular yet he remained unshaken in his convictions of what was right and what was wrong. Threatened with death, bombings, and assault, Yarrow and his musical trio carried on, lacking fear in order to spread a message that would change the United States forever. When asked if he was ever afraid for his own life, he began to describe an occurrence where an individual set off a bomb in the middle of their protest crowd. Yarrow described the event with fiery eyes, as though it had just happened a day before. “Instead of running in fear,” he said, “the entire crowd linked arms with one another and sang the famous folk song, ‘We Shall Overcome’ over and over again.”  His own dedication and relentless disregard for himself over the benefit of others lead him to produce and coordinate the 1969 anti-war march on Washington in entitled, “The National Mobilization to End the War.”  It rendered 600,000 people marching and speaking out against the Vietnam War.

Yarrow, however, is extremely humble about his accomplishments. He has received 3 honorary doctorate degrees from universities across the United States and is on the list of “100 Most Notable Cornell Graduates of All Time.” These are just a few of the awards he has received and will not be the last, as his humanitarian efforts are far from over. Yarrow not only spreads positive messages with his music, he also became a social activist for tolerance in schools, and even today his impact is still spreading across the world.  In 2000, Yarrow founded “Operation Respect,” which is an organization that teaches students in grades 2-8, “to establish a climate that reduces the emotional and physical cruelty some children inflict upon each other by behaviors such as ridicule, bullying and-in extreme cases-violence. It is a unique organization that provides a gateway to broad scale adoption of school-based character education as well as social and emotional learning (SEL) programs.” To date, over 40,000 educators have adopted this program.

Yarrow performed in the Recital Hall of UNCG’s Music Building to a packed house.  Before he strummed a note on his guitar, he received a standing ovation from everyone present. His obvious sentiment for the youngest of generations shone through as he paused playing songs to encourage children to join him and sing along. It was as though he cared more for the wellbeing of the young crowd than he did for the satisfaction of the fans engaged. Yarrow explained to the crowd, “As you become an adult you harden yourself and in this process, lose your imagination.  Yet, when you were a child you had imagination and were impressionable. This is why we must make a difference in the lives of our children to make a difference in the future.”

Peter Yarrow is a defining figure in the positive future of past generations, current generations, and future generations to come.  When asked to provide words of wisdom for UNCG students, he replied “I have three pieces of advice: One, never do anything for the sake of money. Two, Do not earn a college degree in something that you do not have a love and passion for. Three, use college as a learning experience, do not become consumed with grades because you must learn to create, learn to think, and learn to open doors for yourself.” As a final note, for the record, Yarrow has stated that his famous song, “Puff The Magic Dragon”, is in fact, not about drugs.” 

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