Paul Oliver was widely regarded as the most important blues scholar of the 20th and 21st centuries, pioneering research into the origins and development of the music, and uncovering hidden lives of African Americans during Jim Crow segregation. He was also a former lecturer at, and honorary graduate of, Oxford Brookes (formerly Oxford Polytechnic).
The Paul Oliver Archive of African American Music (POAAAM) is a mixed media collection that includes books and magazines, music recordings, music scores, audio reel recordings, and research papers. Although the majority of the collection was collected and created by Paul Oliver, some additional items were donated to the collection via the European Blues Association (EBA), including: a jukebox from Michael Roach; CDs, LPs and videos from Robert Tilling MBE; Works Progress Administration slides from Stuart Kidd; 45s from Dave Dalton; and music scores from John Anderson. We are grateful to the EBA for permanently loaning POAAAM to Oxford Brookes University.
The audio reel recordings include interviews with artists such as Gus Cannon, John Lee Hooker, Lonnie Johnson, Mance Lipscomb, Will Shade, Sam Lightnin' Hopkins and Victoria Spivey. Interviewees also included black protesters in Memphis and the African American professor Sterling Brown at Howard University in Washington DC. Thanks to kind funding from the EBA the reels have been digitised.
The Blues Off the Record project, funded by Archives Revealed from The National Archives, has catalogued the audio reels and research papers which can be searched via our online catalogue. The music scores have also been catalogued and the book cataloguing is underway.
This exhibition shows some of the photographic highlights and audio clips from the collection:
- 'Conversation with the Blues (1965): its significance and legacy' webinar with Chris Strachwitz, founder of Arhoolie Records and friend of Paul Oliver.
- Playlist inspired by the collection.
- 'Why Paul Oliver Matters: the Blues and African American Music' online lecture as part of the Creative Industries Festival 2021.
- Online exhibition created as part of the Think Human Festival 2020.
- Playlist recreating the jukebox which is part of the collection.
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