Hugh Morgan Hill, better known by his stage name Brother Blue, was a Cambridge storyteller, street performer, and legend who graced the streets of Boston and Cambridge with his inspired storytelling for more than 30 years.
Born in Cleveland Ohio in 1921, Brother Blue served in World War II, before earning a scholarship to Harvard University and graduating in 1948. After Harvard, he earned a master’s in playwriting from the Yale School of Drama. While struggling to write plays, he quickly realized his skill to captivate audiences when he began describing his stories.. Alongside his wife, Ruth Edmonds Hill, he traveled around Massachusetts, telling stories to prison inmates. This experience led him back to school, and he earned his doctorate in storytelling from Union Graduate School, performing his thesis about prison storytelling with a 25-piece jazz orchestra. It was during this time he took on his catchy name, established his trademark of painted butterflies on his face and hands, and dressed head-to-toe in bright blue attire.
Brother Blue’s popularity grew and he gained international esteem as well as local fame for his storytelling on the Cambridge Common, at school fairs, annual festivals, and most notably in Harvard Square. He was cast as a modern Merlin in the 1981 film Knightriders, and his show “Street Corner Classics with Brother Blue,” on Cambridge Community Television was adored. Two books have been written about him: Brother Blue: A Narrative Portrait of Brother Blue A.K.A. Dr. Hugh Morgan Hill in 1995 and Ahhhh! A Tribute to Brother Blue and Ruth Edmonds Hill, released in 2003.
Brother Blue became the official storyteller of Cambridge and Boston and was known as much for his performances as for his compassionate, heartfelt relationships with the people he met and shared his stories with. He became a mentor and friend to many performers in Cambridge, and a beloved member of the Cambridge community.
Brother Blue died in 2009, aged 88, and was honored at the 2010 Cambridge River Festival. The festival was opened with a procession led by a large puppet of Brother Blue and his iconic butterflies, created by Eric Bornstein of Behind the Mask Theater. An original composition titled “Song for Blue” was performed in his honor, and storytelling took place throughout the day at numerous locations, continuing Brother Blue’s tradition. “Forever Blue Storytelling” on Tuesday evenings continues to take place at the Out of the Blue Gallery, 106 Prospect Street, Central Square, an enduring example of his legacy for the Cambridge Brother Blue loved and entertained so well.
As prepared by:
Gavin W. Kleespies, Executive Director Cambridge Historical Society.
Katie MacDonald, Intern Cambridge Historical Society.