The first time I crossed paths with Brother Blue in the mid 70s, my attention span was insufficient for the moment. I’m guessing that’s not uncommon for those who didn’t know about him, it was unfortunate for sure. I can’t recall my exact impression. Most likely I thought it just one more nutty attention-seeker in a place full of them c. I had no idea about Brother Blue — a man who could lift your spirit right out of your shoes and into the wild blue, if you were willing, is anything but common.
On his home turf in and around Harvard Square Cambridge, Massachusetts, a landscape often filled with spectacle, Brother Blue practiced his craft. Covered in blue, and with his trademark butterflies on display, he’d bare his soul, in whatever condition the day had brought. Wherever he appeared he brought with him his rich powerful spirit, using colors from across and beyond the spectrum, and sparking the imagination of his audience.
Hugh Morgan Hill’s stories were epic yet personal; grand in scale yet sparse in delivery. With his unique story-telling style he reached deep into the psyche of his audience, reminding us of who we are and where we’ve come from. Watching him at work, was to witness a keeper of tradition that reaches back beyond recorded history, into ancient times.
“I am older than the oldest stories, I am the storyteller.” -Brother Blue
His few simple props carry power in his hands. In the midst of a story he rummages through his “storytelling bag” and pulls out a pair of antique shackles. Holding them up, he declares “this is the REAL thing!”
“My people came out of slavery, a few generations back. I never met my great grandmother or great grandfather, they all died early. Worked to death!” With tears coming to his eyes and his few words the audience is plunged into the depth of sadness, the tragedy of lives come and gone, spent in toil helping to build this country.
Then he calls on another black man, “Ray Charles, my brother, I love to hear you sing America the Beautiful! But RAY…my eyes are wide open….I know you are looking at America from your soul. And you’re singing about the America you would like to see!” Brother Blue sheds real tears, “America! Come ON! I love you for what you could be! We’ve gotta feed the hungry!
Still holding up the shackles and shedding tears, Brother Blue says “I came out of slavery. My family was brought here on what they call the Middle Passage. Some of their bones sit at the bottom of the sea! Come on America…that’s my story.”
Hugh Morgan Hill was born in 1921 in the city of Cleveland, OH. He served in the military during WWII before earning a scholarship to Harvard, from where he graduated in 1948. Next he earned a masters in playwriting from the Yale School of Drama. He struggled for a short time as a writer, but typical of a colossus, Brother Blue’s spirit soon broke through the mire to find purpose.
That’s just one of the many lessons to be learned from Brother Blue’s life and stories. Finding his path blocked by uncooperative publishers, he kept in motion. With his wife, Ruth Edmonds Hill, he set out traveling around the region telling his stories, captivating audiences and found his true calling.
Brother Blue’s 2002 business card read “Storyteller, Street Poet, Soul Theater”. — Wikipedia
He performed in and around Harvard Square since the 70s if not earlier. Ultimately he was named “Official Storyteller” for both Boston and Cambridge by edicts from both city councils.
Brother Blue passed away in 2010. I call him a colossus for good reason. Once he departed from the planet, things changed forever. We who have been here a while know better than to think there won’t be another character taking his place, but he can never be replaced. Those of us who were fortunate enough to be there for his storytelling sessions saw a one-of-a-kind.