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The late, legendary musician David Crosby and his indelible bond with Kent State University

David Crosby
Posted at 5:28 PM, Jan 20, 2023

KENT, Ohio — He sold millions of records, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice and was a figurehead of the counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s. However, for Kent State University, David Crosby, the late legendary and acclaimed musician was much more than his accolades. Given his indelible link to the May 4, 1970 shootings, Crosby, in many respects, was a member of the Kent State family.

Crosby, a pioneer of folk rock and one of the founding members of The Byrds and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, died on Thursday. Considered one of the greatest singers and songwriters of all time, Crosby was 81 years old.

In addition to his legendary discography, Crosby is remembered equally as well for his participation in the anti-war movement that gripped American society during the Vietnam War. As a founding member of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Crosby is also remembered for his poignant yet incredibly raw performance in the hit song Ohio. Arguably one of the most powerful "protest anthems" of all time, the song, written by Neil Young, was inspired by the May 4 massacre on the Kent State campus.

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“It was immediate. It was topical. It was immediate and it was the truth,” Crosby said in a 2017 interview published by the university. “We didn’t realize it would be a gigantic hit. We knew that there were a whole lot of people like us who were shocked that four of America’s children had been gunned down on a campus doing something they were legally allowed to do.”

On May 4, 1970, members of the Ohio National Guard fired more than 60 rounds over 13 seconds, killing four students and wounding 9 more. The students had been protesting the expansion of the Vietnam War into neighboring Cambodia as well as the presence of guardsmen on the college campus.

The shootings were widely condemned nationwide and prompted scores of student walk-outs on college campuses across the country.

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Rosann ‘Chic’ Canfora, a full-time assistant professor of journalism at Kent State’s School of Media and Journalism, was a witness to the May 4 massacre. Her late brother, Alan, was also wounded in the shootings.

Through her work at the university and her continued involvement in the events commemorating the tragedy, Canfora had numerous interactions with Crosby, including his 2019 tour of the May 4 Visitor’s Center, which Crosby has previously praised for its authenticity.

Canfora described Crosby’s passing as “incomprehensible.”

“It was a sad night (Thursday) but when I woke up today I really had an opportunity to think about what a sad day this is for Kent State because there is no one that we associate with the song Ohio more than David,” Canfora said. “[Crosby] always talked about the impact that the Kent State shooting had on him and the band and, of course, Neil Young, who walked out into the woods and sat down and wrote this song.”

Crosby routinely made visits to the Kent State campus and performed at the nearby Kent Stage, including annual performances before the pandemic. During his most recent tour of the visitor’s center, Canfora recalled feeling an indescribable connection with Crosby.

“I don’t think I ever felt more privileged. I surprised myself that I wasn’t just standing there in awe of him,” Canfora said. “[W]hen he spoke of that time period and he was standing in front of the photo of him with his father and he’s wearing that fringe jacket… it was almost like I was hearing him sing.”

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The photograph of Crosby and his father highlights the deep political and social divide that was present in many American households in the 1960s. The iconic photo also highlights Crosby’s monumental stature in the 1960s counterculture.

“As soon as people heard about what happened at Kent State, it changed,” Canfora said. “When [Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young] rushed that song to the forefront of the American consciousness, I think they played a significant part in ending the war in Vietnam. They were part of the turning point.”

Although Americans of all ages and demographics will always have Crosby’s music and unmistakable voice, Canfora said she and the Kent State family are beyond privileged to have had a place in Crosby’s heart.

In many ways, Crosby never left campus, Canfora said.

“I’ll never forget the last thing he said to me when we finished that walk [in 2019],” Canfora said. “‘We don’t have much time left, but we still have so much work to do.’ I’ll carry that with me for the rest of my life.”