Sneha Girap (Editor)

Brother Blue

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Name  Brother Blue

Role  Educator
Movies  Knightriders
Brother Blue Obituary for Brother Blue The Art of Storytelling Show

Full Name  Hugh Morgan Hill
Born  July 12, 1921 (1921-07-12) Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.
Occupation  Storyteller, actor, educator
Died  November 3, 2009, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States
Spouse  Ruth Edmonds Hill (m. 1950–2009)
Education  Harvard College, Harvard University

Brother blue boston s griot

Hugh Morgan Hill, (born Cleveland, Ohio on July 12, 1921, died Cambridge, Massachusetts November 3, 2009) who performed as Brother Blue was an African American educator, storyteller, actor, musician, street performer and living icon in Boston, in Cambridge, at Harvard University, MIT, and in the global oral storytelling community. After serving as First Lieutenant from 1943 to 1946 in the segregated United States Army in World War II and being honorably discharged, he received a BA from Harvard College in 1948 (cum laude in Social Relations), was accepted into the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) before transferring to receive a MFA from the Yale School of Drama and a Ph.D. (Divinity with pastoral sacred storytelling) from the Union Institute, having delivered his doctoral presentation at Boston's Deer Island Prison, accompanied by a 25-piece jazz orchestra, with a video recording for his dissertation committee's further consideration. While performing frequently at U.S. National Storytelling Festivals and flown abroad by organizations and patrons from England to Russia and the Bahamas, Brother Blue regularly performed on the streets around Cambridge, most notably in Harvard Square. He was the Official Storyteller of Boston and of Cambridge by resolutions of both city councils, a most unusual honor, doubled.


Brother Blue was a 2009 recipient of the W. E. B. Du Bois Medal from the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard University, named for William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, the first African American to earn a Harvard PhD in 1895. Brother Blue's award was accepted posthumously on his behalf by his spouse, Ruth Edmonds Hill, oral historian at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, on December 4, 2009, sadly a bare month after his death, for what Henry Louis Gates, Jr. cited as "his desire to build a better world, one story at a time." In his performances and in private communications, Brother Blue frequently exhorted people to tell "stories that change the world," with the combination caveat-encouragement, "We want a story from your heart. If it's not from your heart, don't tell it."

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Brother Blue in The Kaleidoscope Cabaret (2003)

Youth and early career

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Raised in the boisterously revivalist African Methodist Episcopal church of the 1920s and 1930s, young Hugh was the grandson of a slave who heard tales of his grandfather's slavery from his father, who was a devout Christian. "My daddy wore the Bible out with his eyes," he relates, and the imprint remained through the son's own career as Brother Blue. The Hills lived in a poor area in Cleveland, Ohio as one of the few black families in their neighborhood. Brother Blue recalled his childhood as a rough time, saying "I'm like a flower who grew up in rocky soil." During Sunday church services, Blue found his voice telling stories, carrying this art forward into Sunday school sessions he taught after prayer.

Blue's storytelling career began with the tales he told his beloved retarded younger brother Thomas who was unable to read and write. Unable to say "Hugh" clearly, Thomas spoke his elder brother's name with a sound close to the word "Blue," a sobriquet which came to reflect Brother Blue's personal journey and in turn imbued his persona some of his public stories of his brother Thomas. History records that Thomas died young in an institution. Brother Blue's versions tell of how Thomas was "special" and mostly wanted to fly, so he climbed on the roof of the house and fell to his death. Blue muses, "Thomas...he thought he could fly, he thought could fly, so he tried." Especially in the middle portion of his career, Brother Blue would often explain that, ever grieving, he was still looking for his brother, and "he might be you."

Entering Harvard on scholarship, Brother Blue won the undergraduate Boylston Prize for his recital of a speech penned and originally orated by Haitian slave rebellion leader Toussaint L'Ouverture. He subsequently won the Walt Whitman International Media Competition for delivering selections from The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Inspired by American Civil Liberties attorney Clarence Darrow of Scopes Trial, son of an abolitionist family, Brother Blue initially intended to apply to law school in order to become "the black Clarence Darrow." However his storytelling calling brought him successfully to Yale School of Drama's graduate school instead before obtaining his doctorate in Divinity from the Union Institute.


Brother Blue and Ruth's ubiquitous symbol is the blue butterfly, usually styled in the wing and scale patterns of the densely blue or solid blue morpho native to South America yet admired around the world for its over 80 species, a globe-spanning welcome totem. Personally dedicated to improvisation, Brother Blue welcomed variation in its styling, acknowledging its ancient Greek association with the diversities and flights of psyche. In the later part of his career, Brother Blue constantly wore a broad breast-plate sized medallion suspended around his neck which was a gift among the butterfly tokens with which people expressed their appreciation and affection for the Hills. Even then, many other butterflies from the myriad he wore through his career bedecked his whole body, and blue butterflies were frequently painted on cheeks and in the palms of his hands, with blue ballpoint pens when no other cosmetic was handy; blue butterflies in his palms are featured in his role as Merlin in the Knightriders and the camera zooms in on his butterfly hand sadly and poetically waving goodbye at the camera during a funeral at which he officiates in the film. The morpho butterfly or large, fanciful blue hued lepidoptera grace Brother Blue's publications, media jackets, festival banners, ornamental staff, and stages. The story of a caterpillar's struggles, hopes and dreams and metamorphosis into a butterfly was one of Brother Blue's signature motifs.

Usually sporting a close-fitting hat, Brother Blue particularly favored a blue beret on which butterfly pins, some with rhinestones or sea opals, were affixed. He wore a sash emblazoned with "BROTHER BLUE STORYTELLER" in his capacity as Official Storyteller of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Lacing his shoulders, arms, elbows, wrists, knees, ankles and elsewhere were often curling ribbons, and he was known to carry bright blue balloons with his predominantly blue ensemble, underlying his finery with blue turtlenecks or collared shirts and blue pants. In the Judaic and Vedic and African traditions, he often appeared barefoot or would take off his shoes in the early course of a performance to touch earth as sacred ground.

Brother Blue's 2002 business card read "Storyteller, Street Poet, Soul Theater".


"From the middle of the middle of me," Brother Blue would say, swirling his finger in magical airs in the space between you then gently tapping it toward your heart, "to the middle of the middle of you ..." And he would say with growling resonance, "I am older than the oldest stories, I am the storyteller." A signature story which gave form to one face of this archetypal "storyteller" from Blue is his tale of Muddy Duddy, a fictional musician who could hear the sound of a harp coming out of the earth.

Brother Blue's unique style of storytelling made extensive use of rhyme, rhythm, and improvisation, creating a verbal jazz of words and images. He referred to himself as a street poet and, in the same words as Saint Francis of Assisi, as "God's fool". He told idiosyncratic versions of Shakespeare's King Lear, "The Big O, Othell-O" and Romeo and Juliet, a variety of self-mythologizing autobiographical stories, and always his signature story about a caterpillar's first vision of a butterfly. MacArthur Fellow, Salzburg Festival bad boy wunderkind of re-visioned theatrical works Peter Sellars (Harvard College Class of 1981) cast Brother Blue as an idiosyncratic actor in updated classical productions in such venues as The American Repertory Theater.

Brother Blue's PhD, spanning the seminary work of Harvard Divinity School and the Episcopal Divinity School and oral storytelling through the Union Institute, ministering to civil prisoners while performing for and out of their trials so he could "tell the greatest stories to those in the greatest need," typified the highly multifaith homilies his stories would sometimes include.

As an educator, Brother Blue taught at the Episcopal and Harvard Divinity Schools, then with Ruth Hill in the Harvard Storytelling Workshop held in venues across Harvard University's campus, on television through WGBH, and in his most casual later forum, Storytelling with Brother Blue.

The epic in the human situation, fundamental issues of birth, love, loss of siblings, anguish, death, subjective ugliness, impairment, imprisonment, divinity, freedom, imagination, daring, yearning, and the discontent which transforms social roles, conveyed through the most ancient of story cycles, African and Franco-Welsh legend, Shakespeare, modern jazz interpretations, and post-post-modern improvisation reaching directly to epic gestalt through even humble incidents are an enduring weight in Brother Blue's compositions, performance, professing in academia and in practica.

Often these grand themes would pour through picaresque characters, though also through socially high profile characters portrayed such as Othello or unnamed archetypal personalities such as the Old Storyteller or This Little Girl or Someone Who's Somewhere Everywhere.

Heuristics and story coaching methodology

With great controversy, Brother Blue's refusal, at a phase of his evolution, to give grades to graduate students in university courses he taught, and then his formal adoption of an ethic of not "criticizing" in the usual senses but effusively "appreciating" and mainly "saying thank you" in response to performances he proctored, coached, or judged, set him even farther along the liberal humanist spectrum of oral storytelling critiquing whose kindly edge was otherwise defined in his later lifetime by the work of Doug Lipman's guidelines for Story Dynamics coaching, which filled out further in the eulogistic direction of Brother Blue's radical stance by Lipman's middle period schema in his collaboration with Jay O'Callahan among Brother Blue's internationally influential League for the Advancement of New England Storytelling (LANES) colleagues who treat this subject systematically within the oral storytelling field as well as in corporate consultation toward realizing human potential. Cautious of "the green dance" himself, Brother Blue eschewed the world of commerce and economics as much as the formality of numericalized aptitude assessment, and explained that he preferred to address people "in their wonderfulness" regardless of their situation and the tentativeness of their product and expression, calling on their individual superlativeness.

Improvisation was a pervasive element in Brother Blue's performances and one of the chief skills he nourished in others. "I call it cosmic jazz. I don't repeat myself, I don't write it down, you can't get it in a book, in a book" he said (2008).

In the early and middle parts of his career, Brother Blue practiced Calling the Muse to open any gathering of storytellers or storytelling.

Universal traditions

Universal themes, lore, personalities, motifs and penumbra referenced in Brother Blue's opus include: caterpillar, metamorphosis and butterfly (which gave its ancient Greek sense to modern concepts of psyche)

Brother Blue believed that telling stories is a divine calling. "I think I was anointed to be a storyteller—I mean touched by the fire," he said. "I can tell stories in my sleep and blow the world away!" Avowing that he was "working on greatness!" he described what he sought from everyone as "stories to change the world." He declared that "Love will overcome all in this world. Love’s gonna win. Nothing can stop this. There will be these fools that come along, and I don’t mind being that fool, who is trying to express that. I have this madness—volition—this chosen madness to believe that I can change this world". "Storytelling is a sacred art," he emphasized. "And the irony of it is that most people—if you say that—back away. They want to be amused mostly, or have a way of passing a little time. Not Blue. Even when I'm trying to be funny, I'm trying to give you my soul. That's strong".

Music and song and the European bardic tradition

Brother Blue's chief musical instruments were harmonica and human voice, and occasionally tambourine, drums, and the gnashing of chains, featuring genuine early American slave chains he used in an early signature story developed in performance to his class while he was a Divinity School teaching fellow. Finger snapping, stomping and dancing, often barefoot, are featured in many of his performances.

At Harvard, Brother Blue studied under Albert Bates Lord who was, with Milman Parry, among the coterie of those who compared the methods of the most venerable surviving contemporary Slavic and Eastern Mediterranean bardic tellers of traditional sagas with the language and content and literary formats of the Homeric epics, concluding that Homeric works derived from or were transcribed out of oral storytelling forms, as ultimately documented in The Singer of Tales (1960) These were themes in global mythography, contemporary with work such as that of Marija Gimbutas and Joseph Campbell which Brother Blue addressed in his training of others. Albert Lord's 1954 class also led Herbert Mason to write his intensely personal Gilgamesh, A Verse Narrative (1970) as Mason's own bosom young friend lay deathly ill, and which was narrated for accompaniment to the international museum exhibit, Treasures of the Royal Tombs of Ur, with dedication to both Mason and the Hills by a student of Brother Blue and Ruth Hill as Gilgamesh: God King of Sumer, The Oldest Story in the World, along with Diane Wolkstein's portrayal of Inanna. Brother Blue also advised a live, partially extempore performances of the Gilgamesh and Inanna cycle for this exhibit at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, California.

Professor Albert Lord said that Brother Blue was "sui generis," meaning in Latin "of a kind of his own" because Brother Blue "does not really belong to any particular tradition in storytelling" but is "a phenomenon in himself."

Like the bards throughout the ages, Brother Blue was fêted by titular nobility; he is known for the poignancy of his autobiographical tale of telling stories to enthrall, cheer, and uplift an English Duchess, and his feelings of guilt and dismay upon learning of her suicide on the coattails of his departure, wondering "if only" he could have told her just the one more thing, given her the one more smile into her soul...

European-related themes, lore, personalities, motifs and penumbra referenced in Brother Blue's opus include: Albert Einstein, Homer, Vergil, Dante, William Shakespeare and personal favorites St. Francis of Assissi and Don Quixote, to all of whom he would compare his own, his colleagues' and his audiences' works and lives. "I bring Homer to the streets. I bring Sophocles," he said. "To tell stories, you should know Chaucer. You should know Shakespeare. You should know Keats. You have to be constantly reading. You read, you think, you create. You have to know the new moves: You must be able to rap and be able to sing the blues!".

United States pan-cultural traditions

United States historical and cultural themes, lore, personalities, motifs and penumbra referenced in Brother Blue's opus include: Bob Dylan, John Coltrane and Robert Kennedy. Brother Blue said he wanted to be "the black Clarence Darrow," which is why he had intended to go to law school before finding his calling at Yale School of Drama. See also African-American tradition strand, below.

African-American and African traditions

African-American and African-related themes, lore, personalities, motifs and penumbra referenced in Brother Blue's opus include: "a chicken with a busted wing," lions, elephants, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., B.B. King. Blue spoke about skin color and racial issues, and being an African American during his own true life adventures.

Brother Blue has been frequently featured by the U.S. National Association of Black Storytellers and is frequently referenced by the U.S. griot movement, spearheaded by such oral storyteller griots as Michael D. McCarty in Los Angeles, California, who are extending the original West African griot tradition.

Asian traditions

Asian-related themes, lore, personalities, motifs and penumbra referenced in Brother Blue's opus include: God, Allah, Moses, Imams, Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi, Indian metaphysics.

An apprentice of Brother Blue and Ruth's was welcomed with a name in the family of Purna Das Baul Samrat, like Blue crossed over into film actor and celebrity status through contributions in his own generation as pater familias of the Bauls of Bengal, a once home-shunning caste of storytellers who similarly fuse several religious traditions; and Brother Blue and Ruth Hill contributed to early initiatives to unite storytellers globally through organizations departing from this and other links.

Telescoping Brother Blue's spiritual perspective is his recounting, included in Brother Blue: A Narrative Portrait, of spontaneously piling up a Jacob's ladder of chairs and climbing to the top of them wordlessly upon invitation of a distinguished Harvard lecturer in advanced Indian philosophies, to personify what was beyond words, as Brother Blue explains. Humanistic feeling for God recognized in our fellow creatures was increasingly emphasized in Brother Blue's personal work in his latest years, as he continued, with his wife Ruth, to encourage the fruition of storytelling both abroad and always in their own neighborhood community.

Blue Circle Living Legacy Community

Artists and individuals in a notable diversity of fields credit Brother Blue and Ruth Hill (ever present when Brother Blue spoke or performed, and occasionally his collaborator in content while also leading her own oral history research projects), as their mentors, teachers, and family of choice, and consciously derive new works inspired by his methods, ministry, and traditions. The Hills have influenced a host of others through their work who explicitly cite them in propagating principles and memes to further creators and audiences. Many are storytellers of all media, too numerous to catalog completely, count themselves among the members of the Blue family or extended circle.


Brother Blue, and with him in many instances Ruth Edmonds Hill have collaborated and advised the development of organizations, and have collaborated in creative and editorial works and in performance design.

  • GSN international story network
  • Rav Sylvia Bar (Sefardi Kabbalist), Sacred Storytellers Congregation
  • Interdisciplinary Blue Circle

    Outlining a small sampling of the breadth of Brother Blue's influence upon legacy artists, ministers, physicians to the human condition, activists and educators in less obvious fields who are satellites of the Blue circle, some vociferous members include, among thousands of others:

  • Forbes Black, Editor of and West Coast Contributing Editor at
  • Eric Bornstein and Behind the Mask Studio ( and puppet performance troupe who have created the Mardi Gras float sized puppets of Brother Blue's head and each hand as well as multiple giant butterflies which are paraded in the annual Charles River Festival along the Charles River in Cambridge and Boston, Massachusetts and elsewhere
  • Kevin M. Brooks, MIT Media Lab Metalinear Cinematic Narrative Engineer at Motorola
  • Guy Davis, jazz performer who has told Brother Blue's original "Muddy Duddy" story for a United Nations audience
  • Curtis K. Deutsch, Ph.D., Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center, McLean Hospital (known for psychiatric research), Children's Hospital (Boston, Massachusetts), Harvard Medical School
  • Norah Dooley, whose children's books are listed in The New York Times Parent's Guide to the Best Books for Children and who has received the Social Studies Honor Book award by the Society of School Librarians International
  • Rob Evans, Founder Imaginal Labs, LLC, management consultant, drummer for and student of Blue for over 30 years
  • Stephen Jay Gould, paleontologist, developer with Niles Eldredge of the theory of punctuated equilibrium in evolutionary biology
  • Chris Halpin, Ph.D., Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School, faculty of Harvard-MIT Speech and Hearing Biosciences and Technology and Boston University
  • Seamus Heaney, Nobel Laureate in Literature, Irish poet, author of a critically acclaimed modern verse translation of Beowulf
  • Seth J. Itzkan, entrepreneurial communications technologist whose work includes MIT and Harvard applications
  • Kamala, aromatherapist, intercultural homeopath and perfumer
  • Warren Lehrer, sociologist, biographer, multimedia designer, photographer, professor
  • Joan Littlewood a British playwright and director who corresponded with both Brother Blue and his wife Ruth
  • Harlem F. Logan, motion picture producer and director
  • Andrea Lovett, U.S. living history re-enacter and original scriptwriter, conflict resolution communications consultant, co-winner of the Brother Blue (Hugh Morgan Hill) and Ruth Hill Award, 2010
  • Julian Henry Lowenfeld, Russian literature commentator whose family first translated Leo Tolstoy's works into German
  • Glenn Morrow, storyteller and editor of regional and national storytelling magazines, co-editor of Ahhhh! A Tribute to Brother Blue & Ruth Edmonds Hill
  • Laura Packer, folklorist, storytelling community dean, a leading foster mother-sister in the Blue family circle
  • Rev. Peter Panagore, First Radio Parish Church of America
  • Dr. Joyce Maguire Pavao, Ed.D., LCSW, LMFT, founder of Center For Family Connections, Inc., Adoption Resource Center, Pre/Post Adoption Consulting Team, and Family Connections Training Institute
  • Rev. Hank Peirce, Unitarian Universalist Church
  • Christopher Pineau, Goth
  • Jovan Rameau, stage and motion picture actor
  • Kabir Sen, hip hop artist and piano accompanist, called "hip hop's intellectual face" by DNA.
  • Zjar Uruluzu, futurist, interfaith liturgist, author of the opening invocation for Ahhhh! A Tribute to Brother Blue & Ruth Edmonds Hill
  • Rev. Karl White, Progressive Christian minister
  • Howard Zinn, historian, playwright, Professor of Political Science at Boston University, civil rights and anti-war activist, author of the best-selling A People's History of the United States
  • Oral storytellers

    Almost all of the circle members noted in the succeeding section on the Interdisciplinary Blue Circle are also at least oral storytellers. Oral storytellers, by nature public figures in communities or on the world stage, are colleagues who have been colinearly involved in the Hills' work, many with substantial opi of their own in which both explicit and subtler strands of Blue circle influence continue to be drivers, inspiration, or themes. Some who strongly identify with belonging to the Blue circle and who are not noted separately under other headings, include among thousands:

  • Vernon Cox, "Maine humorist, motivational speaker, and storyteller" who performs as "Tall Taleoligist Willey Phinedit
  • (Will E Find-it) and Learnin' Vernon the teller of Legends, Lore, and a whole lot more."

  • Jane Crouse, 'Universal Storyteller,' Mid-Atlantic Regional Director, U.S. National Storytelling Network
  • Marianne Donnelly
  • Awards

  • W. E. B. Du Bois Medal, 2009
  • National Storytelling Network Lifetime Achievement Award, 1999, “for sustained and exemplary contributions to storytelling in America”. Steve Kardaleff, interim executive director of the U.S. National Storytelling Network introduced Brother Blue's award with “His mother is verse, rhythm and rhyme, and his father is reportedly inverse time.” A nominator had described Brother GBlue as “a walking, talking, living legend.”
  • League for the Advancement of New England Storytelling (LANES) Brother Blue (Hugh Morgan Hill) and Ruth Hill Award, 2002, founding recipient, an annual award named for Brother Blue and Ruth Hill and honoring extraordinary commitment to and support of storytelling and storytellers. Brother Blue described this award's purpose as "To honor those who give their lives to storytelling to change the world."
  • Cambridge Center for Adult Education Anne Bradstreet Lifetime Achievement Award, 2000 for “contributions to the poetry community.”
  • Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA Peace Commission Peace and Justice Award,1999
  • U.S. National Storytelling Association Circle of Excellence Award, 1996
  • U.S. National Association of Black Storytellers Esteemed Elder, 1995
  • U.S. National Association of Black Storytellers Zora Neale Hurston Award, 1986
  • Boston Music Awards “Best of Boston” award for Best Street Performance, 1982
  • Corporation for Public Broadcasting Local Programming Award, 1975
  • WGBH Special Citation for Outstanding Solo Performance on Public Radio, for “Miss Wunderlich,” which he told on “The Spider’s Web” (WGBH, Boston), 1975
  • Walt Whitman International Media Competition winner, circa 1940s, Poetry on Sound Tape award for delivering selections from The Autobiography of Malcolm X
  • Boylston Prize, circa 1945 for recital of a speech by Haitian slave rebellion leader Toussaint L'Ouverture.
  • Brother Blue was also posterboy for the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, South Carolina
  • References

    Brother Blue Wikipedia