Cap’s Off to You!-Ray Hicks (Posthumously) and Celebrating Story

Featuring:  Ray Hicks

Traditional Teller, Gentle Giant, Storyteller

Ray Hicks is unforgettable. Back in 2000, I got to hear him tell at the National Storytelling Festival. The tent was full so the front rows could not be taken. I could stand back and watch him and the rest of the audience. I had read so much about him, and I was witnessing a great heritage-keeper. He loomed over the stage, and even curved over a bit towards the audience – never seeming to stand straight up. His eyes gleamed as if to acknowledge the audience before him while simultaneously having a slight far-off look into that Appalachian Jack Tale world. As he spoke, his accent made it difficult to distinguish certain words. The more he spoke, the more I got used to his rhythm and speech patterns. In a couple minutes, I understood what he was saying and could follow along for the rest of the concert.

Many people have similar memories of Ray Hicks.

Ray Hicks was born Lenard Ray Hicks…but “Ray” came more natural so say. He lived on Beech Mountain in North Carolina. He was discovered as this amazing traditional teller and told at the first National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee. Working with a microphone was quite foreign compared to telling tales on the front porch. Yet, by the next festival – as he told at every National Storytelling Festival until he passed on – he had a handle of that microphone.

By 1983, Ray Hicks received National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. As you can guess, that is the highest honor for traditional arts in the United States.

Ray wasn’t the only storyteller in his family. In fact, he was the eighth generation storyteller. Being that he was the fourth of 11 children, can you imagine the tale swapping between all of them?

From 1951 to 2003, Ray lived upon the earth and gathered up Jack tales and hunting stories passed on from person to person. While working the land as a farmer or a mechanic, Ray got by though nothing gave him more pleasure than telling those Southern Jack tales. It felt like Ray had met this Jack at one time.

Others have many more memories of actually traveling to his homestead in the mountains.

Sadly, a fire took that home and the surrounding outbuildings on May 25, 2021. Click here to see that article.

Do you have memories of him? Need to get to know him?

Here are some sites, videos, or articles featuring Ray Hicks:

http://www.rayhicks.com – a most amazing tribute to Ray Hicks complete with videos, audio, and memories (and you can still submit memories)

New York Times article when Ray Hicks passed – https://www.nytimes.com/2003/04/27/nyregion/ray-hicks-who-told-yarns-older-than-america-dies-at-80.html

Essay – Ray Hicks: The Mysterious Healer – https://muse.jhu.edu/article/434565/pdf

Los Angeles Times article when Ray Hicks passed – https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2003-apr-27-me-hicks27-story.html

Ray Hicks, from Local Storyteller to Cultural Icon: A Bibliography – https://www.jstor.org/stable/40934979?seq=1

The Giant Storyteller: Ray Hicks Tales Bore the Unmistakable Twang and Sensibilities of Early Appalachia –https://wncmagazine.com/feature/giant_storyteller

Do you know a Story Artist who has passed on and want others to remember them? Memories? Pictures? You can submit names and memories of Story Artists who have passed on through our online form. 

I appreciate Ray Hicks for his opening of his home, porch, kitchen table, all the way to the stage to hear those fantastic Jack tales and family stories of from Appalachia. Thank you, Ray.

Ray still has a story.  You have a story.  We all have stories.

Cap’s Off to You!-Brother Blue (Posthumously) and Celebrating Story

Featuring:  Brother Blue (Posthumously)

Storyteller, Mentor, & “Holy Fool”

Brother Blue made an impression as soon as you are in the same room. He could be 10 feet away or 100 feet away and still his aura will take hold. Yes, the first time I saw Brother Blue, it was at the National Storytelling Conference held in Bellingham, Washington in 2004. This was my first time attending any National Storytelling Conference. Seeing Brother Blue solidified my need to promote the art of storytelling in any way that I could. He was willing to share his true self with everyone. Could I find my own way to further the work? Brother Blue always sought for people to find their voice and then shout it out to the heavens.

I can’t even dedicate decent enough words or thoughts about him. I had that fleeting moment that, to this day, feels surreal. All I know is that when he came to the floor of the auditorium that bustled with bards and raconteurs – all focus was on him when he took the stage. People – like me – hung on his every word. He was a peace-maker and what often felt eccentric bits of wisdom that formed as he opened his mouth. One of the most intelligent person I could hope to know all in disguise – of sorts – in his “wanderer” attire of different shades of blue – from the blue hat to the blue shirt and pants and covered in butterflies. Always butterflies, a symbol of personal transformation. Everything he did, said, and wore was with great purpose – often with spiritual undertones.

He saw himself as the “Holy Fool,” and a moment with him was enough to verify this identity. Five years later from when I first saw him in 2004, it was sounded out through the storytelling universe that Brother Blue had passed on.

Yet, he never really passed on. I see his influence everywhere.

When meeting with Laura Packer through Zoom, I noticed the blue butterfly on her left palm. I flashed back to 2004 again. Now, Laura Packer would be a person who could share so much more than me on Brother Blue’s ever-inspiring nature. She purposely has that blue butterfly as a constant reminder about him.

I did find these articles, books, and videos about or featuring him – from people who either knew him better or delved deeper into how Brother Blue became Brother Blue:

Hugh Morgan Hill, the Storyteller Brother Blue, Dies at 88 – The New York Times – published November 26, 2009

RIP, our Brother, Blue aka Dr. Hugh Morgan Hill – massmouth – published November 4, 2009

Brother Blue Is Immortal – Daily Kos, written by WarrenS – published November 5, 2009

Brother Blue – Alchetron – updated May 24, 2018

Brother Blue: A Narrative Portrait of Brother Blue A.K.A. Dr. Hugh Morgan Hill – book dedicated, published October 1, 1995

Ahhhh! A Tribute to Brother Blue & Ruth Edmonds Hill – book dedicated, published September 1, 2003

Brother Blue – Listen with Your Entire Being – only 42 seconds long though wisdom to hear – shared on YouTube on November 18, 2009

Some Footage of Brother Blue – National Association of Black Storytellers Festival 2007/2008

Brother Blue Confesses – a homage shared by Thomas Southern with him talking as if he was Brother Blue – really remarkable in how he was able to capture Brother Blue’s essence – shared on YouTube on August 29, 2016

Miss No Name: Struggles for Justice – a homage shared by Jay O’Callahan with permission from Brother Blue’s wife, Ruth Hill – shared on YouTube on August 23, 2013

Do you know a Story Artist who has passed on and want others to remember them? Memories? Pictures? You can submit names and memories of Story Artists who have passed on through our online form. 

I appreciate Brother Blue for the influence of yesterday, today, and forever in all cosmic ways. He listened to others and thus why we are drawn to listen to him. Thank you, Brother Blue.

Brother Blue still has a story.  You have a story.  We all have stories.

Cap’s Off to You!-Brad Maurer (Posthumously) and Celebrating Story

Featuring:  Brad Maurer (Posthumously)

Storyteller, Librarian, D&D Master

Brad Maurer was more a storyteller than a librarian. For 35 years, yes, he was a librarian. Though all 69 of his years, he was a storyteller. I do have a strong belief in the Pre-Existence…so he had many more years before coming to Earth and now plenty more in the heavens. When Halloween came around, I looked forward to the Spooktacular events throughout the Davis County Library System. Halloween was only Halloween when performing side-by-side with Brad Maurer. Some of these memories are the result of Janine Nishiguchi and I reminiscing together.

Brad’s partner-in-crime for storytelling was Marilyn Getts. They both became branch librarians who had the talents to spin spooky tales as entangled as spider webs. They had quite the repertoire together that I was honored to participate in such as “Hoppa, Hoppa” with a pumpkin that “hopped” or “hoppa, hoppa” from one person to another until facing off with brave and hungry pig or “Old Devil Wind” where various inanimate objects come to life from the door to the broom to the floor and on and on and all because of that “old devil wind.”

Brad had a cat theme in his scary stories from “The King o’ Cats” on people discussing on who is Tom Tildrum in front of what appears to be a normal cat to “Wait Till Martin Comes” where the cats get bigger and bigger and the man has to decide if he really wants to “wait till Martin comes.” Both feel like Brad’s signature pieces and both that I looked forward to him performing. I have heard these classic stories before I met Brad about 10 years ago. Yet, he brought the most life to these stories. I could even believe that Brad could be part-cat in the way he had the perfect yowls and sounds.

What helped in the whole telling was purely Brad’s presence. He was a giant of a man in more than one way. Giant in size of both height and heart. Before he needed a wheelchair when battling Parkinson’s Disease, he was well over 6 feet tall…maybe even 6 1/2 feet tall. He towered over his audience. His voice was loud enough but yet quiet enough to get a sense that all the stories he was telling could be true–as if we were sharing this secret with him.

Despite his size, everyone knew he was really a big o’ teddy bear.

Though, to throw people off, he loved wearing a dark hoody on those Spooktacular nights and put on a monster mask. Now, masks can throw off and possibly scare little kids. Brad knew the importance of a little scare. We, as humans, face scary things every day.

Eleanor Roosevelt said:

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.

Often, people misquote Eleanor Roosevelt for saying “do one thing every day that scares you.”

I like the actual and longer version. I have a feeling Brad would appreciate it, too.

How else can it be explained that he and Marilyn Getts delighted in the telling of “Aaron Kelly’s Bones”? A woman is faced with a good-fer-nothin’ husband that won’t stay dead…or at least won’t stay in his grave. He hangs around, bones and all, rocking back and forth in the rocking chair. Somehow, this woman has another man to call on her. This man is a phenomenal fiddle player and the two of them find out that Aaron Kelly loves to dance and loosens some bones as a result.

To end those Spooktacular nights, Brad and Marilyn often did this poem with the audience repeating the “Ooo__________ Ahh__________Ooo” after each line. This is not the exact wording but closest to how I remember them sharing it. Janine Nishiguchi says she has the exact words that Brad and Marilyn used…so I will edit this when that is possible.

A woman stood by the churchyard wall
Ooo__________ Ahh__________Ooo
The woman she was gaunt and tall
Ooo__________ Ahh__________Ooo
A corpse was being carried in
Ooo__________ Ahh__________Ooo
The corpse was very pale and thin
Ooo__________ Ahh__________Ooo
The worms crawled in and the worms crawled out
Ooo__________ Ahh__________Ooo
In at the nose and out of the snout
Ooo__________ Ahh__________Ooo
The woman to the corpse said:
Ooo__________ Ahh__________Ooo
“Shall I be like that when I am dead?”
Ooo__________ Ahh__________Ooo

Cue Marilyn’s blood-curdling scream. Yes, we sometimes had to warn library patrons to ignore screams on Spooktacular nights.

I always sensed the greatest delights for Brad in the poem to be “the worms crawled in and the worms crawled out.” Obviously, Marilyn’s favorite part was the scream.

Perhaps Brad had another appreciation for fear and death. For over 14 years, Brad battled not only Parkinson’s Disease but also Cancer. He beat out the Cancer, but the Parkinson’s made it’s mark. Still, I never sensed that he was afraid at what was happening. Every time I saw him, like one time at the Smith’s Grocery Store, he was as delightful as ever with plenty of smiles.

Even after Brad’s retirement as the Centerville Branch Manager–in which he was famous for welcoming EVERYBODY with some kind of welcoming statement–he still volunteered with some evening storytimes at the South Branch Library in Bountiful, Utah. When it was the 50th Birthday Party for the South Branch Library in January 2020, it was an honor and true pleasure to see Brad and his wife attend. As a result, Janine Nishiguchi performed “Caps for Sale: a tale of a peddler, some monkeys, and their monkey business” by Esphyr Slobodkina. Brad had more than scary stories in his repertoire and this was another one of his favorite to share.

It wasn’t until reading a little about Brad’s life that I understood how big he was into Dungeons & Dragons…and made perfect sense upon discovery. The imagination soars in that game, which is partly why I enjoy it myself and have my own dice. Though, my love of the game does not even compare to Brad’s involvement and dedication. I saw online that some people made memory bracelets that featured a dragon in Brad’s name. Some day, I will see Brad again and tell him about my own D&D character, a forest gnome named Nissa Folknor (nicknamed Nim) who was a bard and played many different instruments to soothe as well as to stir the soul.

His family knows so much more than me–as they ought. Truly, a fantastic and gentle man…with enough to shake up some scares for the sake of fun.

Thank you for your influence and kindness, Brad!

Do you know a Story Artist who has passed on and want others to remember them? Memories? Pictures? You can submit names and memories of Story Artists who have passed on through our online form. 

I appreciate Brad for the influence of yesterday, today, and forever in storytelling and his way of listening and believing you are the most wonderful person in the world. Of course, you would hear his stories and think he is the most wonderful person in the world. Thank you, Brad.

Brad still has a story.  You have a story.  We all have stories.

Cap’s Off to You!-Syd Lieberman (Posthumously) and Celebrating Story

Featuring:  Syd Lieberman (Posthumously)

Storyteller, High School Teacher, Mentor

Syd Lieberman has been on my mind. A couple things have happened: I came upon an early picture of him on the cover of the November/December 2000 issue of “Storytelling Magazine” with the Storytelling World Awards; and then I read Sam Payne’s article for Story Crossroads combining outer space and storytelling. Syd Lieberman was the first storyteller commissioned by NASA to tell the stories of the scientists. Both of these things happened within the past month. I took it at a sign from the stars themselves that it was time to honor this incredible storyteller, teacher, and mentor.

I never had any one-on-one coaching from him, though it felt like it every time he was on stage. His personal stories are still vivid to me from baseball to World War I fighters to wishing to be Sean Connery. Amazingly, Syd felt it important for people to have access to his work. Even now, you can download entire albums from his website. You, too, can hear “I’m Sean Connery” and many more. At a time when many storytellers scrounged and hoarded their work from the online world–only wanting people at live venues to hear them–I respect Syd’s faith in the community of listeners.

So make that three things that have happened. The year 2020 was when Sean Connery died. Though I respected the actor in my thoughts, I automatically reflected on Syd Lieberman who passed away in 2015. I imagined the two of them hanging out in heaven: Syd, with humility, running some impressions of the actor in front of Sean Connery. The two would laugh. Then Sean sat and settled in for Syd’s entrancing way of telling stories. Perhaps Syd would choose one of his many works commissioned while on earth. Perhaps Syd created a whole new piece while there in heaven. Either choice, I delighted in this exchange.

Something else stuck with me–he said that even when he was commissioned to do a piece that he feared would having nothing he could love or grab onto, he searched hard until he was excited about the piece. When he did the story on World War I fighters, he hated the war. But, he thought of the pilot with a picture of his family in the cockpit. Family. Syd could love this part of the piece, and then everything transformed in the preparation and the telling of the piece.

After pondering a little more, I discovered that Syd had always been there in one way or another in my own storytelling journey. One of the first storytelling books I owned was entitled “The Storyteller’s Guide” written and edited by Bill Mooney and David Holt, published in 2000. Many storytellers shared advice on topics from finding the right story to copyright. Syd was one of several quoted within these pages. I started storytelling in 1994 but it was the year 2000 when the national and global levels of the art were realized.

Let’s think back before 1994. Syd was first a high school English teacher for three decades before coming to the storytelling world. He prided in having a classroom that did not look like a classroom. He took efforts to have soft chairs and a nontraditional set-up. Out there at Evanston Township High School in Illinois, students had the opportunity to have their minds blown, to think beyond the usual, to achieve what other people dubbed “impossible.”

I don’t have some big story of interacting with Syd. But they are big stories to me. I still remember listening to “Twelve Wheels on Mars” from the front row during the Weber State University Storytelling Festival. I got another front row seat for “Abraham & Isaac: Sacrifice at Gettysburg.” How can someone go back to the “real” world after experiences like these?

So I was flabbergasted when Syd attended my Fringe at the 2011 National Storytelling Conference. Front row. Center seat. This was for my “Family Famine: Hunger for Love” that delved into family relationships–the good and the bad–and combined traditional tales from around the world with, yes, the electric guitar for soundscaping by Joshua Payne and harmonizing singing with Holly Robison.

He didn’t have to say a word. His presence spoke wonders.

One time, when attending one of the Timpanogos Storytelling Conferences held at the Brigham Young University campus in Provo, Utah, the wind blew. I was walking to the next session and skirting about the crowds. I saw a hat fly off. I had no idea who belonged to that hat. Being an avid hat-wearer, this hat needed to be picked up. It rolled a bit, but I got it. I searched around for the owner. Syd Lieberman came to view.

“You saved my hat!” He beamed, took my hands, and gave a kiss on each cheek. From then on, I was “hat girl” whenever we crossed paths. Years went by, and still that was “my name.” So Syd is Sean Connery. Call me “hat girl.”

Thank you for your influence and kindness, Syd! Please share your own experiences. If you have yet to enjoy Syd’s work–or need to reminisce, please go to his website where you can find audio and video. What a mentor.

Do you know a Story Artist who has passed on and want others to remember them? Memories? Pictures? You can submit names and memories of Story Artists who have passed on through our online form. 

I appreciate Syd for the influence of yesterday, today, and forever in storytelling and his way of finding the delight even in what seems to be a difficult situation. Thank you, Syd.

Syd still has a story.  You have a story.  We all have stories.

Cap’s Off to You!-Bill Higley (Posthumously) and Celebrating Story

Featuring:  Bill Higley (Posthumously)

Storyteller, Pantomime Extraordinaire, Friend

Bill Higley gained the status of “Treasured Teller” for the Weber State University Storytelling Festival and was a recipient of the Karen J. Ashton Award for his service with storytelling. Being a Treasured Teller has only been given to a handful of people in the almost-25-year history of this festival.  After seeing him perform, you would have no doubt.  Part of the “perk” of being “Treasured Teller” was that he was invited every year to perform without needing to take part in the annual auditions.  Yet, year after year, when I helped to run those auditions, he would sign up for a spot anyways. None of us completed judging ballots, though we sat back and enjoyed what made him so great. His specialty was in pantomime with one of his most famous pieces being “David and Goliath.”  When I heard of his passing, it felt as if the earth rumbled when Goliath fell. That was July 15, 2014. He was 74 years old. I cherished all the memories and all the people he inspired.

I loved being in the front row for any performance that he did. Nothing can compare to how he stretched his face or had his hands move just so. He created fantastic butterflies with a flit of a his hand or how he moved his feet to make me feel like he–and I–were high above in the sky.

Besides his pantomiming, one of his other signature tales that comes to mind would be “Clay Boy” that you can find as a picture book. This crazy boy made of clay–of course–kept growing bigger and bigger. The way he puffed his cheeks while telling the story made me laugh every time.

He mentored many youth tellers including some of our top youth with the Weber State University Storytelling Festival. He was the perfect one to guide for anything to do with body language and gestures or even specifically with pantomime itself.

He often volunteered at the library in Ogden and told stories galore. That alone would mean his impact would be in the thousands. Some people bring up his love for films. While teaching at Weber High School, he developed a club consisting of “Film Appreciation” students. He was always drawn to the classics and always preferred the original pieces rather than any kind of remake.

I wished I lived closer to Ogden so I could have experienced Bill’s performances more. He did many ParticiPlays at the Treehouse Museum, which is known for families to “step into a story” through hands-on displays and toys as well as the regular storytelling performances. When it came Christmas time, he often portrayed Santa there. However, some kids knew his voice so well at the library from his storytimes that many parents had to have ready-and-quick answers if there was any doubt with whose lap they sat upon.

Bill was as jolly as Santa, and someone we will love always.

Do you know a Story Artist who has passed on and want others to remember them? Memories? Pictures? You can submit names and memories of Story Artists who have passed on through our online form. 

I appreciate Bill for the influence of yesterday, today, and forever in storytelling and his way of being youthful and wise at the same time. Thank you, Bill.

Bill still has a story.  You have a story.  We all have stories.