Over half a century in the music business hasn’t changed Noel Paul Stookey’s focus. Better known as “Paul” of the legendary ’60s folk trio Peter Paul and Mary, Stookey, along with fellow singer/songwriters Peter Yarrow and the late Mary Travers, quickly rose to fame armed with empowering and heartfelt songs for difficult times (“If I Had a Hammer,” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” “Blowin’ in The Wind,” “Leaving on a Jet Plane”).
Peter, Paul and Mary’s first album would hit No. 1 on the charts, a rarity for folk music. And over the years, they would score 16 Grammy nominations and five wins. But Stookey has long believed that the real wins in music are related to the positive impact and change that music can evoke. On March 22, 2021, the social activist who performed at the 1963 March on Washington and witnessed the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, releases a new solo album Just Causes that channels his longtime mission of advocacy and desire to give back.
With over 50 albums under his belt, Stookey’s Just Causes is a curated compilation of 15 Stookey tracks written over the course of his career, some dating back to 1970, each highlighting a social concern and paired with a related non-profit organization. The album’s net proceeds will benefit each of the non-profits attached to the songs, targeting causes including environmental conservation (“In These Times”), Down Syndrome (“Danny’s Downs”), prejudice, hatred (“Jean Claude”), immigration (“Familia Del Corazon”), poverty (“The Winner”), justice (“America The Beautiful”), reproductive rights (“All My Life”), addiction (“The Connection”), victimization and child protection (“Song For Megumi”), and spiritual renewal (“Revolution (1×1)”).
“Passing through a frozen food section of my market, I was reminded of Paul Newman’s giving all of his profits away to charity. And I thought, well, you know, I’ve got songs in the freezer that I’ve been collecting for a while. And I’m going to put them all on an album. And I was struck by the fact that even though it’s taken me 50 years to collect them, there were 15 pretty strong, individually focused causes, that the songs were making a comment on. And to then find charities that were thematically connected with those songs was, I don’t know, kind of a thumbs up from the universe—this is the right thing to do and the right time to do it,” explained Stookey in a recent interview.
Giving back is a common theme for Stookey, whose 1971 hit “Wedding Song (There is Love)” continues to be a wedding day playlist favorite with royalties going to the Public Domain Foundation that has, to date, yielded nearly $2 million for charitable causes.
Musically, Stookey seems to stay on track when it comes to his target. “I feel most comfortable saluting the core that unites us all. And so all the songs have some kind of awareness of our mutuality of love and our commonality by virtue of that attribute. You know, life is really abundant, and to not be a songwriter who wants to share that, I would be at fault,” noted Stookey, who as a young Greenwich Village artist influenced by the work of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and Josh White Jr., learned the “currency” of lyrics in addressing common societal issues.
A longtime mentor, in 2001, Stookey and his daughter Liz Stookey Sunde founded Music to Life, a non-profit initiative to fund the work of socially responsible artists through technology, entertainment, artist collaboration and education. The organization recently released its first CD, Hope Rises featuring 15 activist artists.
The positivity within Stookey’s music has always mattered as much as the message and melody. “There is a balance between the serious nature of what songs can speak to and there is also the celebration, and I think, to forego one without the other is a mistake, because life has a constant offering of the multiplicity of experiences,” said Stookey.