Hugh Morgan Hill, who as the storyteller known as Brother Blue captivated passers-by on the streets of Boston and Cambridge, Mass., with his parables, life stories and retellings of Shakespeare's plays, and who became a fixture at storytelling conferences and gatherings in the United States and abroad, died Nov. 3 at his home in Cambridge. He was 88.
The death was confirmed by his wife, Ruth.
Hill, a playwright by training, began attracting audiences in the late 1960s when he took to the streets.
He was hard to miss, a gangly black man dressed from head to toe in blue, with blue-tinted glasses, a blue stocking cap or beret, and blue butterflies drawn on his face and palms. Blessed with a resonant voice and a commanding stage presence, he was equal parts entertainer, shaman, motivational speaker and, as he liked to say, "holy fool."
"He was the John Coltrane of storytelling," said Warren Lehrer, author of the 1995 book "Brother Blue: A Narrative Portrait of Brother Blue, aka Dr. Hugh Morgan Hill."
"He had his repertoire, but he would improvise, working off news items, or things he was seeing at the moment, or people in the audience, with parenthetical digressions as thoughts occurred to him."
Hill was born July 12, 1921, in Cleveland, where his father was a bricklayer and raised his family in a white neighborhood. "He would say, 'We were one black button in a field of snow,'" said Rob Evans, a management consultant and friend of Hill's.
Brother Blue dealt in uplift and inspiration, telling stories from his own life or folk tales from Africa and Asia. He often performed short versions of the plays of Shakespeare, whom he called "Willie the Shake," taking all the parts himself and translating the main plot points into street language.
Hill regarded storytelling as a sacred duty and a path to universal harmony. "When you tell a story, you tell it to all creation," he once said. "It's cosmic. It never goes away."