Chrissie Hynde's Connection To The Kent State Massacre

Even though it occurred over five decades ago years ago, the countercultural revolution, a movement first spurred by protests against the Vietnam War which spanned the 1960s and 1970s, left an indelible mark on the history of the United States. It also had lasting effects on much more than American foreign policy. For example? Rock music. Many of the people who helped make a genre steeped in rebellion and exploration on the fringes of society what it is (such as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, and many others) were part of the protest movement, whether through their music, on the ground, or both.

Though anti-Vietnam War protests were often contentious (and even violent), there was perhaps no large-scale demonstration of that time period more brutal than the one that took place at Ohio's Kent State University in 1970, where four unarmed protesters were shot to death by Ohio National Guardsmen. In the aftermath, CSNY's song "Ohio," an anthem about the massacre, became one of the most memorable protest songs ever written (a sentiment Rolling Stone upheld in 2020, 50 years after the song's debut), and public sentiment against the Vietnam War, already at a low point, soured even further.

But CSNY wasn't the only musical outfit directly tied to what happened at Kent State. Rocker Chrissie Hynde, who became famous as the frontwoman for The Pretenders, was there that day, according to Far Out magazine. She even had an oblique connection to one of the victims.

The Kent State shooting was the result of simmering tensions

In 1970, the Vietnam War appeared to be winding down — enough that then-President Richard Nixon had even campaigned on a promise to end the unpopular conflict. However, in April of that year, U.S. troops under Nixon invaded Cambodia, escalating the war rather than winding it down, and sparking renewed protests across the country.

Things were particularly tense in the Northern Ohio town of Kent, the home of Kent State University. Protests in the town turned violent, with an angry mob throwing beer bottles at police, as well as the burning down of the university's ROTC building, according to the Kent State University Library. (Per Far Out magazine, it is now thought that those responsible for the violence were not Kent State students.) Ohio's governor at the time, Jim Rhodes, called the protestors "un-American," and promised to "eradicate the problem." Soon enough, the National Guard was called in.

On May 4, 1970, around 2,000 student protestors gathered at the university's commons area, with National Guardsmen opposite them. The exact sequence of events that happened next is complicated, but long story short, the protestors purportedly threw rocks at the Guardsmen. In turn, the armed officers first deployed tear gas before opening fire, shooting an estimated 67 rounds in 13 seconds into the crowd. When the dust had settled, four students were dead, with nine others injured.

Chrissie Hynde was present at the Kent State shooting

Chrissie Hynde would become famous as the voice of The Pretenders — but back in 1970, according to The Guardian, she was just an anonymous Kent State student, an Akron woman who had gone to a local university to study art. Like her colleagues, Hynde was big on protesting the Vietnam War, and was even involved in acts of anti-war vandalism days before the famed shootings. "We took these big garbage cans from the side of the road, wheeled them into the middle of the street and set them on fire. It was an awesome sight," she recalled in her 2015 memoir "Reckless: My Life as a Pretender" (via Far Out magazine).

On the day the events at Kent State unfolded, Hynde was a member of the crowd of demonstrators targeted by the Ohio National Guard, though she wasn't hit by any of the shots fired. "I heard the 'tatatatatatatatatat' sound. I thought it was fireworks," she wrote in "Reckless." Distraught and overcome by emotion, she collapsed to the ground and was later carried to safety by other students. According to her book, Kent State student Jeff Miller, one of the casualties that day, was the boyfriend of Chrissie's friend (via New York Daily News).

That day marked the end of Hynde's career as a college student. She left for London to pursue her musical career and never looked back.