Saturday, November 7, 2009

Brother Blue 1921-2009

On November Third, Brother Blue (Dr. Hugh Morgan Hill) left the land of the living. He took the title of "storyteller" but could be, and often was, described as a shaman, griot, or performance artist avant la lettre. He was a powerful presence in the Boston area as well as internationally for decades, telling stories to children, teenagers, and adults, as well as serving as a friend and mentor to countless artists.

Brother Blue loved King Lear and often described Shakespeare as the "greatest bluesman the world had ever known."

I had the joy of many encounters with him and his wife and constant companion, Ruth Edmonds Hill, a historian, folklorist, and his documentarian and manager. Last time was this past June at a reading by former U.S. Poet Laureate, Rita Dove, at the Harvard Bookstore. Despite such luminaries in the room as Dove, Henry Louis Gates, and Kevin Young, in the hour or so that followed the reading, Blue held court in his own unique manner, so when he draped his arm over my shoulder I felt like a prince.

Often times, I would encounter him holding court in the café section in the front of the Harvest Co-op in Central Square, and and I soon found that to anyone who knew him, "I was talking to Brother Blue" was an acceptable excuse for tardiness. One day, he told me that he was tired of so many of so much of the traditional mime repertoire that had since become cliché and demanded of me, instead, to "show me the sun having trouble getting up in the morning."

I did not want to refuse, and I could not, and right there in the café, I performed what could only be termed 'the first draft" of what would become my mime piece, "O, Mister Sun, Don't You Fall Asleep On Me." That was the sort of influence Blue could have on people.

I have looked about for any written accounts of my encounters with Blue and found an entry from my 2005 blog about one of my stints with Bread and Puppet:

Brother Blue and Ruth Hill arrive early to the evening’s show. Blue is one of the great American storytellers, and the elder statesman of Boston’s bohemia. Ruth is his wife of many decades, documentation, manager, and less flamboyant partner, dressed in a richly textured patchwork of blues, greens, and purples, she has a rye and dry sense of humor, that stands out in contrast to Blue’s exuberance. Blue praises Peter as "one of the world's greatest" Peter laughs and announces his willingness to accept “the Brother Blue Nobel Prize.”

After the show, Brother Blue confides in myself and Mary Curtin, the producer of the Cambridge run, a Bread & Puppet “geezer” and saxophonist with the Second Line Social Aid and Pleasure Society Brass Band that he regards Peter as "Beyond Genius” that his uniqueness is such that the world will not have another like him soon. That when Peter is gone there will be no more Bread & Puppet.
Blue easily could have been describing himself: his uniqueness was such that the world will not have another like him soon.

Other tributes of note:

Laura Packer's announcement on the MassMouth blog.

Warren Senders' Brother Blue is Immortal on the Daily Kos.

Obituary WBUR's Online Edition

Obituary in The Boston Globe

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