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Noel Paul Stookey sings for "Just Causes," 5 Things to Know

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

Posted: Wednesday, March 31, 2021

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At 83, Noel Paul Stookey is not quite settling down.

In fact, he's released one of the most ambitious albums of his career.

For "Just Causes," the Peter, Paul & Mary veteran -- a Birmingham Seaholm High School and Michigan State University graduate -- has picked through his catalog for 15 songs, pairing each with an appropriate charity. The opening "In This Time," for instance, benefits the Nature Conservancy, while his version of "America the Beautiful" is tied to People For the American Way and "The Winner" ties into the Southern Poverty Law Center."

On top of this, Stookey continues to work with longtime partner Peter Yarrow and has other projects in the works, including another album and a book. He's 60 years in with, it seems, much more to come...

• The "Just Causes" project, according to Stookey, was inspired by going to his regular grocery store in Blue Hill, Maine, and being reminded that Paul Newman's variety of food projects were raising money for charity. "I thought, 'My goodness, I have such an abundance of money that comes from my catalog. Let me look and see if I can’t' find songs that suit a particular charity and put them all together and give the net proceeds to the charities as the money comes in.' I went to my friends, the people who work with me at New World Media, and said, 'Help me find the best places to put these funds towards.' That was a big challenge, but, honestly, the response has been so lovely, all the way around."

• Stookey has enjoyed working with the charities, which have been responsive to varying degrees. "Sometimes I even get a personal response from some of the CEOs who are now in their 60s and 70s and tell me, 'I was seven years old when my mommy and daddy took me to my first Peter, Paul & Mary concert,' which is very sweet.' But also included is a discussion about how to make the transition from the song to their current outreach. I'm still stonewalled by a couple of the responses that are terse, 'What do you want us to do with this?,' but some of them don't have a development office or a far-reaching conceptual person in their administration. But for the most part they're happy to have whatever kind of donation they can get and they're also happy to get some visibility."

• As a self-professed "Johnny-come-lately" to folk and socially conscious music -- "I was into Rhythm & Blues, mostly" -- Stookey says that his catalog actually had a limited number of choices that fit the "Just Causes" concept. "I really had maybe only 20 that addressed particular or specific issues, and of that I selected 15. I guess the one advantage of being a Johnny-come-lately to social equity was that I picked my battles pretty specifically. The focus of each of these songs is pretty tight, so it made the choices somewhat easier, I have to say."

• One of Stookey's fondest memories of his high school years is the Rhythm & Blues group he formed with friend called the Birds of Paradise. "It was great. We had our own theme song for each of our performances that went something like (sings) 'The Birds of Paradise, doo-wah/Are here to say hello, doo-doo-wah/The only way they know, do-wah...' and then I'd play this incredibly bad guitar lick and we'd go into the first song. We made our own actual LP, a 10-inch recording for...I don’t know who we made funds for. Not us, that's for sure."

• While continuing to write on his memoir, currently titled "Don't Use My Name," Stookey is also working on what he predicts will be his last album, a combination of folk and jazz he's calling "Fazz." "It's an attempt to reconcile my leanings towards jazz and my reverence for what folk music has done for my life. I was brought up on Dave Brubeck and the Firehouse Five. I attended jazz philharmonic concerts at Cobo Hall in Detroit. So this (album) will be a combination that threads the needle between folk and jazz. Probably half the songs will be originals and the others will be co-writes, and I'll try to find a balance between band tunes and solo tunes, just like I do on 'Just Causes.' It's going to be a lot of fun, and very different, I think."

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