Faith, family and folk
Music legend brings the love to Ventura
By Chris Jay 03/27/2014
His accomplishments are almost hard to believe. Here’s a sampling to help convey how epic the man’s life and work have been.
He performed at the March on Washington in 1963 in front of a quarter of a million people or so, alongside Dr. Martin Luther King. Yeah, the same event where King first dropped his world-changing “I Have a Dream” speech.
“The Wedding Song,” which he wrote as a present to his friend, has become a standard at weddings all around the world.
He was a pioneer in the early days of contemporary Christian music.
His primary group has sold millions of records, had a debut that went to No. 1 and stayed on the charts for years, won multiple Grammys, toured the world over, created a beloved fictional dragon and, quite possibly, single-handedly kept PBS alive.
Outside of music, his group also stood up for its beliefs by supporting countless causes, organizations and movements — even getting detained and arrested on occasion.
Oh yeah, they also recorded a song by some guy no one heard of and it became a huge hit, an anthem for a generation actually, giving the dude his first break. Who was the struggling unknown songwriter in question who might have remained in obscurity without the break? Bob freaking Dylan.
Who is the living legend that’s the subject of this story? The American original? The inspiring artist?
He is none other than Noel Stookey.
Still doesn’t ring a bell, right?
OK, fine. He’s Paul! As in one-third of the beloved and legendary folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary, which wrote, recorded and performed together for decades until Mary Travers’ passing in 2009.
These days, Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey still occasionally appear together in concert, along with performing solo, but both musicians, now in their mid-70s, spend more time on their various personal projects: Yarrow with his anti-bullying organization, Operation Respect, and Stookey with One Light, Many Candles, a multifaith presentation in word and song that he does along with his wife, the Reverend Betty Stookey.
The concept for One Light, Many Candles came when Stookey’s wife, a chaplain at Northfield Mount Hermon School in Massachusetts from 1997 to 2005, held a monthly interfaith services with students of various faiths reading from their holy books, often accompanied by impromptu performances by Noel. The term interfaith was eventually replaced by multifaith and the program developed into a mix of Betty’s readings from various religious and spiritual leaders and appropriate songs by Stookey.
Though Stookey and his wife are Christian, he is quick to stress that One Light, Many Candles is by no means a Christian event, it’s a celebration of everyone’s faith.
“There’s no hidden agenda. We are celebrating what I call the big L. Love. We call it multifaith because within that context, people feel comfortable bringing their own experiences. Their own journey. It’s not a competition of faith, it’s a recognition of faith.”
As for the hardcore Peter, Paul and Mary fans who may happen upon a One Light, Many Candles event, rest assured they’ll hear something from the PPM catalog.
“We definitely get some hardcores that show up,” laughs Stookey. “There’s always one or two Peter, Paul and Mary songs I do. A song like ‘Blowing in The Wind’ for instance, is very spiritual.”
While the Stookeys may be bringing One Light, Many Candles to Ventura County for the first time, they are not strangers to the area as they spend a few months every year in Ojai waiting out the cold Maine winters.
“We just seem to be out here when it’s winter there. Strange coincidence,” laughs Stookey.
“We’re actually looking for a permanent place in Ojai. We have been visiting here in the winter for a few years. We’re in our mid-70s. We need a place close to the center of town so we can walk to the store when we’re no longer driving. We’ve really expanded our friendships out here. It’s a wonderful place to live. Maybe someone will read this and have just what we’re looking for,” he muses.
Stookey is realistic about how often and how much the two can keep up the pace, especially as the presentations have been met with a great response from the many churches, colleges and community centers that have hosted it around the country.
“We’re doing it more and more. We try to be sensitive and responsive to our age. We don’t want to turn it into a new career. We’re supposed to be retired. But we’re feeling very fulfilled by it. It’s our small attempt to make the world a better place.”
Noel and Betty Stookey present One Light, Many Candles on March 29 at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 5654 Ralston St. in Ventura. For more information, visit www.uuventura.org. For more information on One Light, Many Candles visit www.onelightmanycandles.org.