Special Collections and Archives Receives Funding for Cataloguing of Rare Blues Records

Friday, 16 October 2020

Paul Oliver with Chacago Bluesmen

The Special Collections & Archives department at Oxford Brookes University has received £36,786 from The National Archives as part of its Archives Revealed initiative. The work that has received the funding is titled Blues off the record: cataloguing the Paul Oliver archive.

Oliver, born in Nottingham in 1927 and died 2017, was an English artist, scholar, folklorist, architect and collector, and is widely considered to be the most influential blues music scholar of the 20th and 21st century. He was particularly prominent in his research into the origins and development of music during the Jim Crow segregation era. Furthermore, he was also an honorary graduate and lecturer at Oxford Brookes University.

The grant will allow a project cataloguer to create an online catalogue for the audio reels and research papers which form part of the Paul Oliver Archive of African American Music (POAAAM). Before this grant, cataloguing this work would have taken many years to complete.

The project, in conjunction with the European Blues Association, will last for one year, and begin in the early part of 2021, and his materials will be open to researchers, academics and the public alike. People will be able to access the collection within the reading room in Headington (once Covid restrictions have lifted) and through displays of material both on campus and online. However, after the year is up, the collection will remain available for everyone to enjoy.

The collection housed by Special Collections & Archives includes reel recordings, research papers, photograph collections, scores and books. On the reels are also a series of interviews with prominent blues musicians, including artists such as Mance Lipscomb, John Lee Hooker, Will Shade, Sam Lightnin’ Hopkins and Victoria Spivey.

Dr Helen Workman, Director of Learning Resources at Oxford Brookes University, said:

“Oxford Brookes University is delighted to have been awarded an Archives Revealed grant to enable us to undertake the cataloguing of Paul Oliver’s audio reels and research papers. As well as its significance in relation to the blues as a musical genre, the collection offers a unique commentary on the relationship between the music and African American history, which is of particular relevance as we work to better represent marginalised voices within our collections. The funding will enable the reach and use of this significant collection to be considerably extended.”

Pictured: Front left: Little Walter; Roosevelt Sykes; Paul Oliver; Little Brother Montgomery.

Rear Left: Sunnyland Slim and James ‘Stump’ Johnson, standing in front of the house of Muddy Waters in Chicago, 1960.