It was 51 years ago today (May 14th, 1970) that Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (CSNY) released their single “Ohio” as a tribute to four students killed by National Guardsmen on May 4th, 1970 during anti-war protests at Ohio’s Kent State University.
David Crosby and Neil Young were together in the days following the shootings, and were both distraught over the senseless killings and found themselves discussing, arguing, and replaying the tragic events, until Young took a guitar and sat alone and composed “Ohio.” The song, which was recorded right away, was rush-released only ten days after the shootings.
A while back, Graham Nash and David Crosby shed light on how the group made the decision to put social politics above their chart success: (Graham Nash): “We put out ‘Ohio’ in 12 days with a 45 (picture sleeve) cover of the Constitution with four bullet holes in it and we killed our own single. (David Crosby): We had ‘Teach Your Children’ halfway up the charts goin’ for Number One and Nash pulled it. (Nash): Do you think out managers were happy? Do you think our record company was happy? I don’t think so. But, y’know what? They let us do what we want. They realized we are a different kind of band. For me, bringing out the point of ‘Ohio’ and the slaughter of our students with their God given constitutional right to address grievances of their government. That was more important than me having a hit with my song.”
David Crosby recalled to us a trip with Crosby, Stills, & Nash to the university’s campus in memorial to the students: “We went back to Kent State not long ago, to the site where those Guardsmen murdered those four kids. And the looks on faces of parents and people there (and) students who were there when it happened, parents and kids that it happened to — when we stood there and sang ‘Ohio’ . . . I got a great job. I got a great thing to do in life, and if I have to do it in public, then I have to do it in public.”
CSNY’s “Ohio,” backed with “Find The Cost Of Freedom,” was released on May 14th, 1970 and peaked at Number 14 on the singles charts. Both songs were eventually included on the band’s 1974 greatest hits collection So Far.