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Cambridge storyteller inspires, leaves legacy

Banner Staff
Cambridge storyteller inspires, leaves legacy
Brother Blue, official storyteller of Boston and Cambridge, died earlier this month at the age of 88. Recipient of several international honors, Brother Blue also acted as a mentor to hundreds throughout the city. (Photo: courtesy MIT)

Hugh Morgan Hill, better known as Brother Blue, died earlier this month at home at the age of 88. A world-renowned storyteller, Brother Blue acted as a mentor to hundreds and an inspiration to thousands through his craft.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, on July 12, 1921, Brother Blue served in the U.S. Military from 1943 to 1946, fighting in both theaters in World War II. Upon his discharge from the military, Brother Blue obtained a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University in social relations and then a master’s degree in playwriting from Yale University and a doctorate in storytelling from Union Graduate School.

“He believed deeply in the medium of storytelling because it brought people together, and he was delighted to be around others who liked to tell stories,’’ Jay O’Callahan, a storyteller from Marshfield, said in a published report.

Brother Blue initially wanted to be a playwright, but had difficulty selling his work. In the 1960s he transitioned from writing plays to the art of storytelling. By the late 1960s, Brother Blue was telling stories on the streets, in classrooms and in prisons. He is most well known for his story about a caterpillar that turns into a butterfly. Brother Blue painted butterflies on his hands, which he uses during the story as a visual effect.

Brother Blue believed that if a person told a story to another person they could never harm each other and therefore stories could save the world. He often said that he told stories from “the middle of the middle of me to the middle of the middle of you.” In that way, he explained, the stories would open up a larger world where listeners could tell their own stories.

Along with his visits to classrooms and prisons, Brother Blue also ran a storytelling program for 20 years that helped young storytellers develop their craft. He and his wife, Ruth Edmonds Hill, would listen and encourage other storytellers to find their voice. For his storytelling program work, Brother Blue received multiple international honors and was named official storyteller of both Boston and Cambridge, his adoptive home.

Brother Blue is survived by his wife Ruth Edmonds Hill, his sister Beatrice Hill, his niece Lynda Hill, his nephew Thomas Hill and hundreds of storytellers. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the League for the Advancement of New England Storytelling (www.lanes.org) and the National Association of Black Storytellers (www.nabsinc.org).