Paul Oliver Archive of African American Music

Paul Hereford Oliver (1927-2017) was an architect, artist, scholar, folklorist, and collector.

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 and the published books and journals are catalogued and searchable on LibrarySearch.

The collection includes a large amount of records, recordings are listed here. The special collections room houses a record player capable of playing 33s, 45s and 78s. Please contact us if you’d like to arrange a listening session.

This exhibition shows some of the photographic highlights and audio clips from the collection:

Further resources