Noel Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul and Mary reflects on ‘Just Causes,’ the story behind ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’

on May9
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EXCLUSIVE: At age 83, Noel Paul Stookey still has plenty to say.

The singer/songwriter, known as the “Paul” in the ‘60s folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary, recently released “Just Causes,” a compilation of 15 songs, each highlighting a theme of social concern, including the environment, hunger, and drug trafficking, among others. The star paired each song in with an appropriate non-profit organization to benefit from the album’s net proceeds. 

And Stookey is no stranger to singing for a good cause. The group’s version of “If I Had a Hammer” became an anthem for racial equality. The band famously performed Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” at the August 1963 March on Washington. They also protested the Vietnam war and joined the fight to improve the working conditions of California’s farmworkers – just to name a few.

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'Just Causes' is a carefully curated compilation of 15 songs by Noel Paul Stookey. Each song features a theme of social concern, including hunger, drug trafficking and the environment, among others. <br>
The legendary folk singer has paired each song with an appropriate designated non-profit organization to benefit from the album’s net proceeds.

‘Just Causes’ is a carefully curated compilation of 15 songs by Noel Paul Stookey. Each song features a theme of social concern, including hunger, drug trafficking and the environment, among others. <br>
The legendary folk singer has paired each song with an appropriate designated non-profit organization to benefit from the album’s net proceeds.

Stookey spoke to Fox News about releasing “Just Causes,” his favorite memory with Peter Yarrow and Mary Travers, the real story behind “Puff the Magic Dragon,” and becoming a born-again Christian.

Fox News: What can audiences expect from “Just Causes”?
Noel Paul Stookey: You know, it’s not the release so much. It’s what it’s about. That really gets me up and going on a lot of levels. I was just a young kid from the Midwest who fell in love with rhythm and blues. I had my own band in high school and played guitar. And Greenwich Village was a wake-up call with the music of Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and Josh White.

 I’ve been learning. I’m a slow learner. I’ve been learning over the last 50, 60 years *laughs*. But I’ve come in contact with some really wonderful people at some really wonderful moments like the March on Washington. It awakened me. It awakened all of us. My particular form of expression has always been music, whether it’s making up romantic songs in high school or bringing the mission of my heart to fruition. 

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Noel Paul Stookey is still passionate about music decades later.

Noel Paul Stookey is still passionate about music decades later.
(Photo by Rebecca Sapp/WireImage/Getty Images)

Fox News: How did you choose the songs and the charities that you wanted to support in this album specifically?
Stookey: A lot of the songs that I’ve written were, first of all, about awareness. Not a lot of them are story songs, but after 50 years, there were 15 that were pretty obviously connected. For example, “Jean Claude” was a song about two boys caught up in the Nazi occupation of France.

We chose the Dallas Holocaust & Human Rights Museum as its designated charity. It was a choice between them and the one in Washington, D.C. But not everybody gets to Washington, D.C. And wouldn’t it be nice if was supported by a remembrance and awareness institution further West? So we picked the Dallas Holocaust Museum.

There’s also “Tom Quick,” a song about America’s indigenous people. I was really touched by the First Nations Development Institute, which works to improve conditions for Native Americans. They provide grants and training. So I thought that really worked. And “The Connection” works with Partnership To End Addiction… There’s a need for families to get to the heart of the matter in terms of the addict’s needs and desires. And to provide support for those families. 

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Peter, Paul and Mary, circa 1983 in Chicago.

Peter, Paul and Mary, circa 1983 in Chicago.
(Photo by Paul Natkin/WireImage/Getty Images)

Fox News: Do you think that artists like Bruce Springsteen can carry on the tradition of folk music that you, along with Peter and Mary created in the ‘60s?
Stookey: Oh for sure… I know he plays acoustic guitar and he’s been on Broadway. And I know there are other folkies who are easily more identified by people because they play acoustic guitar.

But the impact of folk music in the ‘60s was much more about the message than it was about the style. Even The Beatles reminded us of the fact that we are a community of human beings and we share concerns other than just romance. And that has an impact. It’s certainly evident in hip hop and rap, particularly in the early years. 

It may have had an edge to it that put people off. But there was some degree of sorrow and inequity that was being expressed and some anger. It’s about making a statement… It’s about making a message, whether it’s the environment, homelessness, voting rights, inequality… I think we all have to be aware of the fact that folk music is alive and well. It’s just wearing a lot of different clothes, playing a lot of different instruments and being a lot of different voices.

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American folk and pop group Peter, Paul and Mary perform during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Washington DC, August 28, 1963. The trio behind the microphone features, from left, Paul Stookey, Mary Travers (1936 - 2009), and Peter Yarrow. The march and rally provided the setting for the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr's iconic 'I Have a Dream' speech. 

American folk and pop group Peter, Paul and Mary perform during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Washington DC, August 28, 1963. The trio behind the microphone features, from left, Paul Stookey, Mary Travers (1936 – 2009), and Peter Yarrow. The march and rally provided the setting for the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr’s iconic ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. 
(Photo by Rowland Scherman/USIA/PhotoQuest/Getty Images)

Fox News: What’s one memory from your time with Peter and Mary that still makes you smile whenever you think about it?
Stookey: That’s funny. If you hadn’t included the word “smile,” of course, I probably would have said the March on Washington and standing with Dr. King when he gave us the “I Have a Dream” speech. But the memory I have, the one that gives me the b