Of all the popular folk groups of the 1960s, I was torn between The Limelighters and The Chad Mitchell Trio as my very favorite. (The Kingston Trio came in at third place -- sorry, Bill Crider.) Now, looking back in my dotage, first place is securely held by The Chad Mitchell Trio. The original group consisted of college students Chad Mitchell, Mike Kobluk, and Mike Pugh. In 1960, Pugh left to continue his education and Joe Fraiser joined the troop. Mitchell himself left in 1965 to pursue a career as a cabaret singer; he was replaced by then-unknown John Denver, with the group rechristianed as The Mitchell Trio. A year later, Frazier left to be replaced by David Boise. When Mike Kobluk left the group, he was replaced by Michael Johnson and the group was then called Denver, Boise and Johnson, having lost the legal right to the Mitchell name. The group disbanded shortly afterward and John Denver went on to firmly establish himself as an American and international superstar.
(One of the 150 people to audition for Mike Pugh's original spot was a young Tom Paxton, who actually sang with them very briefly. Manager Milt Okun felt that Paxton's voice was not the right fit for the Trio, but the Trio did begin to record some of his songs and Okun signed Paxton as the first writer for his publishing house Cherry Tree Music -- a move that Paxton credits as one of the most important in his career. Among the many awards and honors that Paxton received was a lifetime tribute concert in 2008 honoring his 70th birthday from The World Folk Music Association; among the many artists that honored Paxton that night was...The Chad Mitchell Trio.)
Because none of the trio could play an instument, their backup players were an important part of their success. Over the years, these included a young Roger McGuinn (back when he was known as "Jim"), Erik Darling, Fred Hellerman, Bruce Langhorne, and Paul Prestopino.
As mentioned above, Chad Mitchell had a career as a cabaret singer and had several solo albums. Mike Kobluk went on the become an arts adminstrator in Washington state. Joe Frazier became an Episcopal minister.
In 1987, The Chad Mitchell Trio reemerged in a PBS special reunion concert with special guest John Denver. The link below covers just a bit of that concert with Chad, Mike, and Joe singing Four
Strong Winds and with John joining Mike and Joe to sing For Baby (For Bobbi). The Trio reunited for several other concerts over the years. I understand it took Doris Justis (one half of the very talented group Side by Side) to convince them to come together on a semi-permanent basis. Their 2009 50th anniversary tour was an amazing success. (Kitty and I were fortunate to catch one of these shows, also featuring Side by Side's 25th anniversary performance and Tom Paxton. The six of them together on the stage...just Wow!)
Here's the link. I'm not sure who two of the back-up players are, but the one with the beard is Paul Prestopino, without the brightly colored overalls he's worn every time I've seen him perform live.
For impeccable harmony, social conscience, diversity of material, and love of their craft, The Chad Mitchell Trio is hard to beat.
And, dammit, John Denver was taken away from us way too soon.