Nat Hentoff

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Nat Hentoff
Hentoff bio.jpg
Born Nathan Irving Hentoff
(1925-06-10) June 10, 1925 (age 96)
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
Nationality American
Occupation Columnist, historian, novelist, music critic
Spouse(s) Miriam Sargent (m. 1950; divorced)
Trudi Bernstein (1954–1959; divorced; 2 children)
Margot Goodman (1959–present; 2 children)[1]

Nathan Irving "Nat" Hentoff (born June 10, 1925) is an American historian, novelist, jazz and country music critic, and syndicated columnist for United Media and writes regularly on jazz and country music for The Wall Street Journal.

Hentoff was formerly a columnist for Down Beat, The Village Voice, JazzTimes, Legal Times, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, The Progressive, Editor & Publisher and Free Inquiry. He was a staff writer for The New Yorker, and his writing has also been published in The New York Times, Jewish World Review, The Atlantic, The New Republic, Commonweal and in the Italian Enciclopedia dello Spettacolo.

Early life

Hentoff was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Lena (Katzenberg) and Simon Hentoff. He graduated from the Boston Latin School. He was awarded his B.A. with the highest honors from Northeastern University and did graduate work at Harvard University. In 1950, he was a Fulbright fellow at the Sorbonne in Paris.


Hentoff joined Down Beat magazine as a columnist in 1952.[2] From 1953 through 1957, he was an associate editor of Down Beat. In 1958 he co-founded The Jazz Review, a magazine that he co-edited with Martin Williams until 1961. His career in broadcast journalism began in the closing days of World War II on WMEX, a Boston radio station. Among his early assignments were live broadcasts of professional wrestling from the old Boston Arena. In the late 1940s, he hosted two notable radio shows on WMEX: JazzAlbum and From Bach To Bartók. Hentoff continued to do a jazz program on WMEX into the early 1950s, and during that period also was an announcer on WGBH-FM on a program called Evolution of Jazz. By the late 1950s, Hentoff was co-hosting a program called The Scope of Jazz on WBAI-FM in New York City.[3]

In June 1955, Hentoff co-authored with Nat Shapiro Hear Me Talkin' to Ya: The Story of Jazz by the Men Who Made It. The book features interviews with some of the best-known names in jazz, including Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington and Paul Whiteman. Hentoff went on to author numerous other books on jazz and politics.

On December 31, 2008, the Village Voice, which had regularly published Hentoff's commentary and criticism for fifty years, announced that he had been laid off.[4] In February 2009, Hentoff joined the libertarian Cato Institute as a senior fellow.[5] In January 2010, however, Hentoff returned and wrote one article for the Voice. Since February 2008 Hentoff has been a weekly contributing columnist at[6]

Awards and honors

In 1972 Hentoff was named a Guggenheim Fellow.[7] He was awarded the American Bar Association's Silver Gavel Award in 1980 for his columns on law and criminal justice. In 1985 he was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Laws by Northeastern University.[8] In 1995 Hentoff was given the National Press Foundation's Award for lifetime distinguished contributions to journalism.[9] In 2004 Hentoff was named one of six NEA Jazz Masters by the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts, the first non-musician to win this award. That same year, the Boston Latin School honored him as alumnus of the year. In October 2005, Hentoff was honored by the Human Life Foundation at their third annual "Great Defender of Life" dinner.

Humanitarian causes

In 2002 Nat Hentoff became a member of the Board of Directors of The Jazz Foundation of America.[10] He has worked with the foundation to help save homes and lives of America's elderly jazz and blues musicians, including musicians who survived Hurricane Katrina. Hentoff has written multiple articles to draw attention to the plight of America's pioneering musicians of jazz and blues. These articles were published in the Wall Street Journal[11] and the Village Voice.[12]

Political commentary

Hentoff is known as a civil libertarian, free speech activist, anti-death penalty advocate and anti-abortion advocate. He supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq and is a supporter of Israel.

In June 1970, he criticized Ted Sorenson, who was running in the primary election for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senator from New York, because Sorenson had lived for a time at the "restricted" New York Athletic Club, writing: "what kind of man would choose to live in one of this city's redoubts of bigotry?"[13]

While once a longtime supporter of the American Civil Liberties Union, Hentoff has become a vocal critic of the organization for its advocacy of government-enforced university and workplace speech codes.[14] He serves on the board of advisors for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, another civil liberties group. Hentoff's book, Free Speech for Me—But Not for Thee, outlines his views on free speech and excoriates those whom he feels favor censorship in any form.

Hentoff was critical of Bush Administration policies such as the Patriot Act and other civil liberties implications of the recent push for homeland security. He was also strongly critical of Clinton Administration policies such as the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.

In March and April 2003 Saddam Hussein was deposed by a U.S.-led invasion, launching the ongoing Iraq war. In summer 2003, Hentoff wrote a column for the Washington Times in which he supported Tony Blair's claimed justifications for the war.[citation needed] He also criticized the Democratic Party for casting doubt on President Bush's pre-war assertions about Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction in an election year.

An ardent critic of the Bush administration's expansion of presidential power, Hentoff in 2008 called for the new president to deal with the "noxious residue of the Bush-Cheney war against terrorism". Among the national security casualties have been, according to Hentoff, "survivors, if they can be found, of CIA secret prisons ("black sites"); victims of CIA kidnapping renditions; and American citizens locked up indefinitely as "unlawful enemy combatants".[15] He has advocated prosecuting members of the Bush administration, including lawyer John Yoo, for war crimes.[16]

Hentoff espouses generally liberal views on domestic policy and civil liberties, but in the 1980s, he began articulating more socially conservative positions—opposition to abortion, voluntary euthanasia, and the selective medical treatment of severely disabled infants. Hentoff argued that a consistent life ethic should be the viewpoint of a genuine civil libertarian, arguing that all human rights are at risk when the rights of any one group of people are diminished, that human rights are interconnected, and people deny others' human rights at their own peril.[17]

Hentoff has sardonically described himself as "a member of the Proud and Ancient Order of Stiff-Necked Jewish Atheists".[4][18]

Hentoff vigorously criticized the judicial gag order involved in the "Fistgate" controversy.[19]

In an April 2008 column, Hentoff stated that while he had been prepared to enthusiastically support Barack Obama in the 2008 U.S. presidential election, his view changed after looking into Obama's voting record on abortion. During President Obama's first year, Hentoff praised him for ending policies of CIA renditions, but has criticized him for failing to fully end George W. Bush's practice of state torture of prisoners.[20]

In a May 2014 column titled My Pro-Constitution Choice for President, Hentoff voiced his support for Kentucky Senator Rand Paul's potential 2016 run for president. Hentoff cited Paul's support for civil liberties, particularly his stand against the indefinite detention clauses in the National Defense Authorization Act as well as Paul's opposition to the Obama administration's use of drones against American citizens.[21]



  • Hear Me Talkin' To Ya, with Nat Shapiro (1955)
  • The Jazz Makers, with Nat Shapiro (1957)
  • The Jazz Life ISBN 0-306-80088-8 (1961)
  • Peace Agitator: The Story of A. J. Muste. ISBN 0-9608096-0-0 (1963)
  • The New Equality (1964)
  • Our Children Are Dying (with John Holt) (1967)
  • A Doctor Among the Addicts (1968)
  • A Political Life: The Education of John V. Lindsay (1969)
  • Journey into Jazz (1971)
  • Jazz Is (1976)
  • Does Anybody Give a Damn?: Nat Hentoff on Education (Random House; 1977)
  • The First Freedom: The Tumultuous History of Free Speech in America (1980)
  • American Heroes: In and Out of School (1987)
  • John Cardinal O'Connor: At the Storm Center of a Changing American Catholic Church. ISBN 0-684-18944-5 (1988)
  • Free Speech for Me — But Not for Thee: How the American Left and Right Relentlessly Censor Each Other. ISBN 0-06-099510-6 (1993)
  • Listen to the Stories: Nat Hentoff on Jazz and Country Music. ISBN 0-06-019047-7 (1995)
  • Living the Bill of Rights: How to Be an Authentic American. ISBN 0-520-21981-3 (1999)
  • The War on the Bill of Rights and the Gathering Resistance. ISBN 1-58322-621-4 (2004)
  • American Music Is (2004)
  • Insisting on Life (with Wesley Smith and Maria McFadden) (2005)


  • Jazz Country (1965)
  • Call the Keeper (1966)
  • Onwards! (1968)
  • I'm Really Dragged But Nothing Gets Me Down (1968)
  • This School is Driving Me Crazy (1976)
  • Does This School Have Capital Punishment? (1982)
  • Blues for Charlie Darwin (1982)
  • The Day They Came To Arrest The Book (1983)
  • The Man from Internal Affairs (1985)


  • Boston Boy: Growing Up With Jazz and Other Rebellious Passions. ISBN 0-9679675-2-X (1986)
  • Speaking Freely: A Memoir (1997)


Edited volumes

  • Hear Me Talkin' to Ya: The Story of Jazz by the Men Who Made It (with Nat Shapiro) (1955)
  • Jazz: New Perspectives on the History of Jazz ISBN 0-306-80088-8 (with Albert McCarthy) (1959)
  • Black Anti-Semitism and Jewish Racism (1969)


  1. Collier, L.; Hillstrom, L.C.; Nakamura, J. (1993). Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults: A Selection of Sketches from Something about the Author. 3. Gale Research. ISBN 9780810373846. Retrieved December 12, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Down Beat, February 8, 1952, p. 1.
  3. New York Times, July 3, 1958, p. 49.
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Having Writ for 50 Years, Hentoff Moves on from The Voice", New York Times, January 6, 2009.
  5. "Nat Hentoff Joins the Cato Institute". February 4, 2009. Retrieved March 3, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "WorldNetDaily – A Free Press for a Free People". Retrieved March 3, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "List of Guggenheim Fellows". Guggenheim Fellowship. Retrieved March 3, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Hentoff, Nat, Listen to the Stories: Nat Hentoff on Jazz and Country Music, "About the Author" (HarperCollins 1995).
  9. Nat Hentoff (January 7, 2009). ""Nat Hentoff's Last Column", Village Voice, January 6, 2009". Retrieved March 3, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. 2009-13-10. Accessed 2009-13-10. Archived.
  11., October 13, 2009. Archived.
  12. October 13, 2009. Accessed 2009-13-10. Archived.
  13. Nat Hentoff (June 11, 1970). "One for Dwyer". The Village Voice. Retrieved April 29, 2014. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. "ACLU better clean up its act". September 20, 1999. Retrieved March 3, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Nat Hentoff (November 12, 2008). "Caged Citizen Will Test President Obama". Village Voice. Retrieved March 3, 2011. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Nat Hentoff (December 3, 2008). "Obama's First 100 Days". Village Voice. Retrieved March 3, 2011. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. "Nat Hentoff on Abortion". Retrieved March 3, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. Hentoff, Nat, John Cardinal O'Connor: at the Storm Center of a Changing American Catholic Church, p. 7 (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1988)
  19. "Still, the most astonishing saga EVER! [fistgate]". Retrieved March 3, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. Nat Hentoff (January 12, 2010). "George W. Obama". Village Voice. Retrieved March 3, 2011. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. "My Pro-Constitution Choice for President",, May 20, 2014.

External links