Born in Los Angeles, Crouch became active in the civil-rights movement while still in junior high school. After graduating from high school, he attended two junior colleges in the Los Angeles area but has no degrees – a fact that marks his life’s work as even more extraordinary. While pursuing his studies, Crouch worked for a poverty program in East Los Angeles, teaching literacy. In August 1965, Crouch witnessed the Watts Riot firsthand while working as a playwright in both Studio Watts and the Watts Repertory Theatre Company. He taught at the Claremont Colleges in California from 1968 to 1975. Moving to New York in 1975, Crouch worked as a staff writer for the Village Voice until 1988.
Of central significance to Crouch as a writer was his apprenticeship and close friendship with two extraordinary figures, Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray. In Crouch’s words, these two writers “brought it all back home. They pulled in all of the highest intellectual aspirations and achievements from the world over then combined them with the democratic complexities so inherent to our nation.”
Crouch is the author of four collections of essays, the first two of which were nominated for National Book Critics Circle awards: Notes of a Hanging Judge (1990); The All-American Skin Game, or Decoy of Race (1995); Always in Pursuit (1998); and a book of essays on identity, The Artificial White Man (2004). He also authored the novel Don’t the Moon Look Lonesome (2000); the book One Shot Harris (2002), introducing a collection of photographs by Charles “Teenie” Harris, the legendary news photographer for the Pittsburgh Courier; and with Playthell Benjamin, he co-wrote Reconsidering the Souls of Black Folk (2003).
His writing has appeared in Harper’s, The New Yorker, Vogue, Downbeat, Partisan Review, The New Republic, The New York Times and elsewhere. He has been a commentator for “60 Minutes,”has guest-hosted The Charlie Rose Show and has appeared as a guest on a number of talk shows, including “Nightline,” “The Tony Brown Show,” “Oprah Winfrey” and “Charlie Rose.”
He has served since 1987 as artistic consultant for jazz programming at Lincoln Center and is a founder of the jazz department known as Jazz at Lincoln Center. He is also executive vice president of the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation.
In addition to writing his syndicated editorial column, Crouch authored Kansas City Lightning, a biography of Charlie Parker.
Crouch lives in New York City.