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Peter, Paul and Mary bassist Dick Kniss dies at 74

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January 27, 2012 08:19 PM EST | AP

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SAUGERTIES, N.Y. — Dick Kniss, a bassist who performed for five decades with the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary and co-wrote the John Denver hit "Sunshine on My Shoulders," has died. He was 74.

Kniss died Wednesday of pulmonary disease at a hospital near his home in the Hudson Valley town of Saugerties, his wife, Diane Kniss said.

Kniss was born in Portland, Ore., and was an original member of Denver's 1970s band. He also played with jazz greats including Herbie Hancock and Woody Herman.

Active in the 1960s civil rights movement, Kniss performed at benefits for a range of causes and played during the first celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday as a national holiday.

Peter, Paul and Mary's Peter Yarrow said in a statement that Kniss was "our intrepid bass player for almost as long as we performed together.

"He was a dear and beloved part of our closest family circle and his bass playing was always a great fourth voice in our music as well as, conceptually, an original and delightfully surprising new statement added to our vocal arrangements," Yarrow said.