Connection of Souls
Peter Yarrow - of legendary folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary - performs at Marylhurst University for 14-year-old Rebecca Recht and her classmates
'The Real Puff Daddy,' as Peter Yarrow calls himself, expertly tuned his guitar and lowered a microphone to fit his duet partner, Rebecca Recht.
From her perch nearby, Recht, a 14-year-old Park Academy student with cerebral palsy, peered out into the crowd of friends and classmates.
She looked up at Yarrow for guidance. As he began to pick the strings, she closed her eyes and sang with all her might.
'Don't laugh at me. Don't call me names. Don't get your pleasure from my pain. In God's eyes we're all the same. Someday, we'll all have perfect wings,' she sang, her hands gesturing emphatically.
Her mom, Laurie Recht, wiped away tears. Students stood up in a collective ovation. Rebecca beamed as she bounded off the stage to a flurry of high-fives.
For a kid, this is as cool as cool gets.
It's Rebecca's ongoing friendship with Yarrow - the singer and guitarist from folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary - that brought him to Marylhurst University for a free concert Monday.
'He is my very, very, very best friend in the whole world,' Rebecca said. 'I love him and he loves me.'
They met three years ago when Yarrow played a benefit concert to help move Rebecca from public school to Park Academy. Rebecca, a Vancouver, Wash., resident and only child, wishes that her mom would marry him already.
'He is the best medicine for Rebecca,' Laurie said, adding that Rebecca is doing much better in school because of Yarrow's mentorship.
Yarrow affectionately calls her 'Rivka' and e-mails her almost daily from his home in New York City. Sometimes, he comforts her before doctor's visits or operations.
They discuss respect, the need for social justice and war, topics Yarrow knows a thing or two about - his group was once at the forefront of the Civil Rights and peace movements.
'She is one of the most insightful and courageous people I've ever met,' Yarrow said of Rebecca. 'She's an activist. If I were to march with Martin Luther King again, I know she'd be right there leading and helping.'
Yarrow was in Portland this past week to visit his son and raise money for Operation Respect, a non-profit he founded that promotes a curriculum of tolerance and respect in schools and camps.
'It all starts with bullying, then escalates to prejudice, racism, war and holocaust,' Yarrow said. 'We need to stop that cycle starting with kids. It's the most important work I've ever done.'
He also visited Powell's Books to promote the illustrated version of the famed (and often controversial) Peter, Paul and Mary tune, 'Puff the Magic Dragon.'
Yarrow, looking older but still possessing that signature soft voice that made him famous, showed up at Marylhurst dressed in a blue blazer and khakis as if he stepped out from behind a professor's podium.
With his concerts, he hopes to raise awareness and encourage sensitivity toward underserved populations of kids, such as those at Park Academy, a school for the dyslexic and disabled located at Marylhurst.
'Music is a great way to establish a common bond and reference point to teach kids,' he said.
He performed several original songs, such as the Operation Respect theme song 'Don't Laugh at Me' and a medley of 'This Little Light of Mine,' 'Down by the Riverside' and 'This Land is Your Land.'
Adults and kids clapped and sang along with enthusiasm as Yarrow improvised and asked for audience participation on the well-known Peter, Paul and Mary song, 'The Marvelous Toy.'
As he closed the show and said goodbye, the crowd began to chant 'Puff! Puff! Puff!' in hope of an encore that involved the dragon Puff and his playmate Jackie Paper in the land of Hanalei.
'Oh my goodness! I forgot to sing 'Puff the Magic Dragon,'' Yarrow said. 'What a terrible mistake!'
So he did, after asking those older than 50 to come onstage and sing along to the hippie anthem. Those 12 and under were invited up, too.
'When you write a song in 1959 and a 9-year-old knows the chorus verbatim in 2007, you know you've done something right,' he joked.
Rebecca reveled in the attention but worried that her emotional performance with Yarrow made her friends cry.
She knows, though, that unlike Jackie Paper - who, as the song goes, lost interest in Puff and left him alone and depressed - she would never do the same to Yarrow or vice versa.
'Their souls just connected,' Laurie said. ''Magic' just doesn't seem to be the right word. It's as if they were meant to meet and be in each other's lives.'