|Born||Nathan Irving Hentoff
June 10, 1925
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
|Died||January 7, 2017
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Occupation||Columnist, historian, novelist, music critic|
Nathan Irving "Nat" Hentoff (June 10, 1925 - January 7, 2017) was an American historian, novelist, jazz and country music critic, and syndicated columnist for United Media. Hentoff was a columnist for The Village Voice from 1958 to 2009. Following his departure from The Village Voice, Hentoff became a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, continued writing his music column for The Wall Street Journal, which published his works until his death. He often wrote on First Amendment issues, vigorously defending the freedom of the press.
Hentoff was formerly a columnist for: Down Beat, 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 writings were also published in: The New York Times, Jewish World Review, The Atlantic, The New Republic, Commonweal, and Enciclopedia dello Spettacolo.
Hentoff was born on June 10, 1925, in a Jewish family in Boston, Massachusetts  the firstborn child of Simon, a traveling salesman, and Lena (née Katzenberg). As a teen, he attended Boston Latin School and worked for Frances Sweeney on the Boston City Reporter, investigating antisemitic hate groups. Sweeney was a major influence on Hentoff; his memoir, Boston Boy, is dedicated to her. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree with highest honors, in 1946 from Northeastern University. That same year he enrolled for graduate study at Harvard University. In 1950, he attended Sorbonne University in Paris on a Fulbright Scholarship.
Hentoff began his career in broadcast journalism while also hosting a weekly jazz program on Boston radio station WMEX. In the 1940s, he hosted two radio shows on WMEX: JazzAlbum and From Bach To Bartók. He continued to present a jazz program on WMEX into the early 1950s, and during that period was an announcer on the program Evolution of Jazz on WGBH-FM. By the late 1950s, he was co-hosting the program The Scope of Jazz on WBAI-FM in New York City. He went on to write many books on jazz and politics.
In 1952, Hentoff joined Down Beat magazine as a columnist, and from 1953 through 1957, he was an associate editor. He was fired in 1957 allegedly for trying to hire an African-American writer.
Hentoff co-authored Hear Me Talkin' to Ya: The Story of Jazz by the Men Who Made It (1955) with Nat Shapiro. The book features interviews with jazz musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie and Duke Ellington. Hentoff co-founded The Jazz Review in 1958, a magazine that he co-edited with Martin Williams until 1961. He also served as the A&R director of the short-lived jazz label Candid Records in 1960, which released albums by Charles Mingus, Cecil Taylor and Max Roach, among others.
Around the same time, Hentoff began freelance writing for publications like Esquire, Playboy, Harper's, The New York Herald Tribune, Commonweal, and The Reporter. From 1958 to 2009, he wrote weekly columns on education, civil liberties, politics, and capital punishment, among other topics for The Village Voice.
Hentoff wrote for many publications, including The New Yorker (1960-1986), The Washington Post (1984-2000), and The Washington Times. He worked with the Jazz Foundation of America to help many American jazz and blues musicians in need. He wrote many articles to draw attention to the plight of America's pioneering jazz and blues musicians, which were published in the Wall Street Journal and The Village Voice.
Beginning in February 2008, Hentoff was a weekly contributing columnist at WorldNetDaily.com. In January 2009, The Village Voice, which had regularly published Hentoff's commentary and criticism for fifty years, announced that he had been laid off. He then went on to write for publications such as United Features, Jewish World Review, and The Wall Street Journal. Hentoff joined the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, as a senior fellow in February 2009.
In 2013, a biographical film about Hentoff, entitled The Pleasures of Being Out of Step explored his career in jazz and as a First Amendment advocate. The independent documentary, produced and directed by David L. Lewis, won the Grand Jury prize in the Metropolis competition at the DOC NYC festival and played in theaters across the country.
Hentoff espoused 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 peril.
Hentoff was known as a civil libertarian, free speech activist, anti-death penalty advocate, and anti-abortion advocate. He was described in the American Conservative magazine as "the only Jewish, atheist, pro-life, libertarian hawk in America."
While at one time a long-time supporter of the American Civil Liberties Union, Hentoff became a vocal critic of the organization in 1999 for its advocacy of government-enforced university and workplace speech codes. He served 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 agitated against the Vietnam War and against the United States' participation in it, although as he stated he had been a "hardcore anti-communist" since the age of 15, he had "no illusions about the corrupt, undemocratic government of South Vietnam." After the war's end, Hentoff, along with other Vietnam war dissidents such as Joan Baez, Ginetta Sagan of Amnesty International, and others repeatedly protested what he called "the horrifying abuses of human rights [committed] by the Vietnamese Communist regime."
Hentoff was a believer in the persistence of anti-semitism and a supporter of the existence of the state of Israel. Yet, he often criticized Israeli policies, both on issues of domestic freedoms, such as the absence of due process for Palestinians, and on issues of foreign policy, such as the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. His opposition to Israel's invasion of Lebanon led three rabbis to symbolically excommunicate Hentoff from the religion of Judaism. He commented, "I would have told them about my life as a heretic, a tradition I keep precisely because I am a Jew."
Hentoff was critical of the Clinton administration for the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. He also criticized the Bush administration for "authoritarian" policies such as the Patriot Act and other civil liberties restrictions legislated through invoking the ostensible need for homeland security.
An ardent critic of the G. W. Bush administration's expansion of presidential power, in 2008 Hentoff called for the new president to deal with the "noxious residue of the Bush-Cheney war against terrorism". According to Hentoff, among the casualties of that "war" have been "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". He advocated the formal prosecution in court of members of the Bush administration, such as lawyer John Yoo, for war crimes.
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 criticized him for failing to fully end George W. Bush's practice of "state torture" of prisoners.
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. He cited Paul's support for civil liberties, particularly his stand against the indefinite detention clauses in the National Defense Authorization Act as well as his opposition to the Obama administration's use of drones against American citizens. Hentoff later rescinded his endorsement of Paul in light of the senator's support for normalizing relations with Cuba and his failure to support the complete annulment of the Patriot Act.
Hentoff was named a Guggenheim Fellow in 1972. He won the American Bar Association's Silver Gavel Award in 1980 for his columns on law and criminal justice. In 1983, he was awarded the American Library Association's Imroth Award for Intellectual Freedom. In 1985, he received an honorary Doctorate of Laws from the Northeastern University. In 1995, he was honored with the National Press Foundation's Award in recognition of his lifetime distinguished contributions to journalism. In 2004, Hentoff was named one of six NEA Jazz Masters by the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts, thus becoming the first nonmusician in history to win this award. That same year, the Boston Latin School honored him as alumnus of the year. In 2005, he was one of the first recipients of the Human Life Foundation's "Great Defender of Life" award.
Hentoff grew up attending an Orthodox synagogue in Boston. He recalled that as a youth, he would travel around the city with his father during the High Holidays to listen to various cantors and compare notes on their performances. He said cantors made "sacred texts compellingly clear to the heart," and he collected their recordings. In later life, Hentoff was an atheist, and has sardonically described himself as "a member of the Proud and Ancient Order of Stiff-Necked Jewish Atheists". He expressed sympathy for Israel's Peace Now movement.
Hentoff married three times, first to Miriam Sargent in 1950; the marriage was childless and the couple divorced that same year. His second wife was Trudi Bernstein, whom he married on September 2, 1954, and with whom he had two children, Miranda and Jessica. He divorced his second wife in August 1959. On August 15, 1959, he married his third wife, Margot Goodman, with whom he had two children: Nicholas and Thomas. The couple remained together until he died of natural causes at his Manhattan apartment on January 7, 2017.
Nathan Irving Hentoff was born in Boston, Massachusetts on 10 June 1925, the first-born child of Simon Hentoff, a haberdasher, and Lena [Katzenberg] Hentoff.
Nathan Irving Hentoff was born in Boston to Simon, a traveling salesman, and Lena (Katzenberg) Hentoff.
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