Harper was born in Iowa City, Iowa, the son of Harry D. Harper, II, a psychiatrist, and Marilyn Harper (née Hill), who was one of the first black practicing anesthesiologists in the United States, and, co-authored a book called Wearing Purple. Hill Harper has been acting since the age of 7. Harper graduated from Bella Vista High School in 1984.
He then graduated magna cum laude from Brown University in 1988. In 1992, Harper graduated with a J.D., cum laude, from Harvard Law School.
In addition, he also received his Master of Public Administration degree from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. During his years at Harvard, he was a full-time member of Boston’s Black Folks Theater Company, one of the oldest and most acclaimed black theater troupes in the country.
While a student at Harvard, Harper befriended Barack Obama. Harper and Obama met on the basketball court and became good friends. Although Harper earned three Ivy League degrees, he decided to pursue acting and moved to Los Angeles. He has received several honorary
degrees, including honorary doctorates from both Westfield State College and Howard University. Born Francis Eugene Harper, he adopted the name “Hill” as a tribute to both his maternal and paternal ancestors.