Street Performer, Storyteller Dies at 88

A revered storyteller throughout Harvard Square and Boston, Hugh M. Hill ’48, better known as Brother Blue, died from illness in his home last Tuesday. He was 88.

His studies in drama and storytelling fueled his career, in which he portrayed characters and events with a degree of detail that one listener described as coming “from the heart.”

Originally from Ohio, Hill received three degrees from Harvard—from the College, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and the Divinity School. He also completed a masters from the Yale School of Drama, and a doctorate in storytelling from Union Graduate School.

“When he told you a story, he told it with so much love, you could imagine yourself being there,” said Gregory H. Daugherty, a vendor for Spare Change News, who met Hill 15 years ago. “He was a great person, and he had a great love of people.”

Hill’s repertoire included folk tales and historical reenactments, as well as childhood memories and his own Shakespeare renditions.

Every Tuesday at 7 p.m., Brother Blue hosted an open mic event at Out of the Blue Gallery in Central Square, where he invited guest storytellers to share the art.

For 30 years, Hill graced the streets dressed from head to toe in different shades of blue dotted with butterflies. He also carefully painted one butterfly on each palm and cheek, making him an unmistakable figure in the Square.

Brother Blue was a familiar name to fellow street performers, shop owners, and even Harvard shuttle operators in addition to passersby.

Musician Dave C. Ylvisaker, who only met Hill once a decade ago, still remembers his “vibe.”

“He has a spiritual ‘upness’ with him,” Ylyvisaker said. “He was always smiling.”

Frankie J, a musician who occasionally plays in Brattle Square, recalled Hill stopping by a performance two months ago, in which Hill took over the microphone briefly.

In addition to cracking a few jokes and recounting a short tale, Hill helped promote Frankie J’s music.

“He appeared like a youngster,” Frankie J said. “He had vibes like he was a young rapper from L.A.”

Hill also joked with Frankie J about his many degrees.

“He told me, ‘Man, you see me now? I’m cuckoo!’” Frankie J said. “‘I went to Harvard, and I studied too much!’”

In 2003, Yellow Moon Press featured Brother Blue in “AHHHH! A Tribute to Brother Blue & Ruth Edmonds Hill.” He also recently appeared in “Harvard Square: An Illustrated History Since 1950.”

A service will be held today at 1 p.m. in the Pittsfield Cemetery in Pittsfield, Mass. Hill is survived by his wife Ruth.

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