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Brother Blue on Street Storytelling


Press Play to hear this interview that was recorded as a conference call on 10/10/2007 storyteller Brother Blue appeared on the Art of Storytelling with Brother Wolf to talk about street storytelling and storytelling from the heart.

Press Play to hear this interview that was recorded as a conference call on 10/10/2007 storyteller Brother Blue appeared on the Art of Storytelling with Brother Wolf to talk about street storytelling and storytelling from the heart.

Brother Blue is one of three storytellers in the country whose work and style have directly influenced my own storytelling style and flavor. I am very proud to bring you this conversation about street storytelling and everything else related to storytelling with storyteller Brother Blue.

Eric Wolf

Brother Blue and Ruth Hill
—–storytellers Brother Blue and Ruth Hill

Hugh Morgan Hill
(Brother Blue, Storyteller/Street Poet)

He is Dr. Hugh Morgan Hill, but everyone knows him as Brother Blue. He is called by many “the world’s greatest storyteller.” He says he wants his stories to be “bread for the mind, the imagination, the heart, the soul.” He says, “I speak my stories from the middle of the middle of me to the middle of the middle of you” [the people].

Brother Blue received his undergraduate degree from Harvard College
(with honors) and a master’s degree from the Yale School of Drama. For his Ph.D. degree from the Union Institute, his final presentation or Project Demonstrating Excellence (PDE) was “Soul Shout,” a storytelling concert in a prison, accompanied by a musical band of over twenty inmates.

Storytelling festivals include the Corn island Storytelling Festival, in Louisville, Kentucky; Day for Sam, in Wrentham, Massachusetts, a festival commemorating the life and death of a five-year-old boy; Sharing the Fire, sponsored by the League for the Advancement of New England Storytelling; Toronto Festival of Storytelling; Vancouver (B.C.) Storytelling Festival; and the Yukon Storytelling Festival. He has also appeared several times at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee; and at “In the Tradition…”, the festival/conference of the National Association of Black Storytellers, held in a different city each year.

He has taught storytelling in prisons, and in schools and colleges throughout the United States and in other countries, also in libraries and at conferences. He has presented many workshops and is the founder/director of a storytelling workshop at Harvard University.

He has presented his stories before countless audiences for radio, television, churches, libraries, schools, colleges and universities, hospitals, prisons, conferences, festivals, and in streets and parks in the United States, Canada, Europe, and the Bahamas. His repertoire includes many original Brother Blue stories, traditional stories from western culture, folk stories and spiritual stories from Africa and Asia, also his own one-man street versions of Shakespeare’s plays.

Brother Blue told stories at the Afro-American pavilion and the UNICEF pavilion of the 1984 World’s Fair in New Orleans, and has performed for many festivals, including Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors (New York), the New York Folk Festival (New York), Artscape (Baltimore), Spoleto (Charleston), Africa in April (Memphis), and Mariposa Festival (Toronto). He was the official storyteller in 1976 for the United Nations Habitat (Vancouver, B.C.), and in 1978 and 1988 for the the New Age Conference in Florence, Italy. Other appearances include the American Imagery Conference; the American Academy of Psychotherapists; Sacred Dance Guild; and Boston’s First Night, every year since it’s inception in 1974.

In 1976 Brother Blue was the storyteller on the daily children’s television series “Playmates/Schoolmates,” produced and syndicated by Westinghouse. He also costarred in the role of Merlin in George Romero’s film, “Knightriders,” a modern-day King Arthur story, issued in 1981. He tells “Miss Wunderlich,” an original story about his third-grade teacher, in the videotaped American Storytelling Series (Storytel Enterprises, 1986). Other video appearances include “It’s In Every One Of Us” (San Francisco, 1987) and “In Search Of Joy” (Toronto, 1991). He has two audiocassettes: “Street Cat” (Out Of The Blue Records, 1992) and “Brother Blue, True-Life Adventure Stories” (Shambhala Publications, 1998). Since February 1992 he has hosted a weekly storytelling series in which he has presented as featured tellers over 150 amateur and professional storytellers. In 1997 he began a weekly live storytelling program on Cambridge Community Television, and in 2000 a live radio show.

Original Brother Blue stories appear in several anthologies. A version of “Miss Wunderlich” can be found in Homespun, Tales from America’s Favorite Storytellers (Crown Publishers, 1988) and in Jump Up and Say: A Collection of Black Storytelling (Simon and Schuster, 1995). Other stories are “Muddy Duddy” in The Wide World All Around (Longman, 1987); “The Rainbow Child” in Spinning Tales, Weaving Hope (New Society Publishers, 1992); and “The Butterfly” in Talk That Talk, an Anthology of African-American Storytelling (Simon and Schuster, 1989). An oral history/portrait of his life and philosophy is Brother Blue by Warren Lehrer (Bay Press, 1995).

In 2003 Yellow Moon Press published Ahhh! A Tribute to Brother Blue and Ruth Edmonds Hill.

Memberships in storytelling organizations included the League for the Advancement of New England Storytelling (LANES); National Association of Black Storytellers (NABS); and the National Storytelling Association, renamed National Storytelling Network in 1999. He is also a member of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) and the Screen Actors Guild (SAG).

Brother Blue has received many awards. In 2002, he received from LANES(League for the Advancement of New England Storytelling) the Brother Blue Award (formerly the Hugh Morgan Hill Award). He was the first recipient of this award, named for him, honoring extraordinary commitment to and support of storytelling and storytellers.

Among his other awards is a Lifetime Achievement Award, given in June 1999, by the National Storytelling Network, “for sustained and exemplary contributions to storytelling in America”. In introducing the award, Steve Kardaleff, interim executive director said of Brother Blue, “His mother is verse, rhythm and rhyme, and his father is reportedly inverse time.” One of his nominators described him as “a walking, talking, living legend.” In 2000, the Cambridge Center for Adult Education at its first poetry festival, presented to Brother Blue a Boston Poetry Award, the Anne Bradstreet Lifetime Achievement Award for “contributions to the poetry community.” Other awards include a Peace and Justice Award from the Cambridge (Mass.) Peace Commission in 1999, the Circle of Excellence Award in 1996 from the National Storytelling Association; the honor of being named Esteemed Elder in 1995, and the Zora Neale Hurston Award in 1986, both from the National Association of Black Storytellers. He received from Boston Music Awards a “Best of Boston” award in 1982 for Best Street Performance. He is also the recipient of an award from the Walt Whitman International Media Competition for Poetry on Sound Tape. In 1975 he received the Corporation for Public Broadcasting Local Programming Award, and a Special Citation for Outstanding Solo Performance on Public Radio, for “Miss Wunderlich,” which he told on “The Spider’s Web” (WGBH, Boston). By resolution of the city councils, Brother Blue has the distinction of being official storyteller for two cities–Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Boston.

Brother Blue passed away in late 2009 – for more information on blue please see his website at: http://www.brotherblue.com/

5 Comments

  • By Tim, December 9, 2007 @ 10:06 pm

    Fascinating interview. Nice to have Ruth on the line too, so there were two of you to help focus the conversation ;-)

  • By Deirdre McKeown, October 27, 2008 @ 8:03 pm

    oh, thank you, thank you, thank you. I can’t believe the miracle that connected me to this website. Years ago, when I was a storyteller I read
    Brother Blues “caterpillar” story. It moved me so much I can’t begin to express it in words. Its stayed with me all these years. Recently as many of
    the old friends and family I love have died, the story has been a comfort to me. I’d never heard Brother Blue…I read the story, and always wanted to know how he told it. Now I know…from the pure soul within him.

    God bless you for posting this, and god bless Brother Blue and his work and inspiration.

    Deep gratitude and love,

    Deirdre McKeown

  • By Guy Davis, November 7, 2009 @ 10:11 am

    I first saw Brother Blue in 1979 at the Cambridge River Arts Festival. I was playing an acoustic guitar atop the kiosk in Harvard Square, when I saw, on the street below me, a peculiarly dressed fellow. He was dressed in Blue from head to foot, with ribbons and balloons tied to his arms and legs. He was an older man but not like others. He had a lean, youthful muscularity and a smile that shone like the sun. The word ‘charisma’, comes to mind. In his hand was a tamborine which he began to tap as I played. Something about him made me want to be near him. The next thing I knew, he was up on top of the kiosk with me. that’s when I noticed his feet were bare. We became fast friends. I met his darling wife Ruth later.
    Sometimes, his voice sounded like Louie Armstrong. His stories enchanted me. My favorite story of his was ‘Muddy Duddy’. Many years later I got to tell that story to a group of folks at the U.N.
    Godspeed my mentor, my master, my friend Brother Blue. Bittersweet tears fall from the middle of the middle of my heart. Oceans of love traveling through my fingers go to Blue’s Missus; Ruth, my ma.
    Love always
    Guy Davis

  • By Ramona King, April 10, 2013 @ 8:26 pm

    Such a beautiful and soulful interview. It was so amazing to listen to Brother Blue once again. Marvelous and genuine. Thank you so much Eric for posting this. I know there are people who are going to want to experience BrotherBlue again and again

Other Links to this Post

  1. Sankofa, aka David A. Anderson – Historical Storytelling and Cultural Identity | The Art of Storytelling Show — November 7, 2010 @ 12:56 am

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