Nat Hentoff, journalist, author, music critic and social activist, dies at 91

Marcy Oster

(JTA) — Nat Hentoff, who wrote for The Village Voice for 50 years and also wrote for The New Yorker, The Washington Post, DownBeat magazine and others, has died.

Nathan Irving Hentoff, who also was a jazz critic, author and social activist, died on Saturday at the age of 91. His son Nick announced his death in a tweet: “Sad to report the death of my father #NatHentoff tonight at the age of 91.  He died surrounded by family listening to Billie Holiday.”

Hentoff was the author of more than 30 books, including novels, young adult books, and non-fiction books, many dealing with the U.S. Constitution and free speech.

He was a jazz critic in New York in the 1950s and went on to write books in the 1960s and 1970s. He also became an activist, marching against the Vietnam War and marching for civil rights.


Hentoff was born in Boston to Russian-Jewish immigrant parents. The New York Times reported that he tried to rebel at the age of 12 by publicly eating a salami sandwich as people walked by him on the way to synagogue, which angered his father and his neighbors. He said later that he did it in order to know how it felt to be an outcast, calling the experience “enjoyable.”

He attended Boston’s Latin School, and graduated with honors from Northeastern University in 1946.  In 1950, he was a Fulbright fellow at the Sorbonne in Paris.

In 2013, a biographical film about Hentoff, titled “The Pleasures of Being Out of Step,” featured his career as a jazz critic and as a first amendment advocate.

Hentoff was liberal when it came to civil liberties, but conservative when it came to issues such as abortion, which he opposed.

He was married three times, and considered himself an atheist. Hentoff is the father of Jessica Hentoff, director of Circus Harmony in St. Louis.