Paul Oliver Archive of African American Music

Scope and Content

The Paul Oliver Archive of African American Music consists of material collected and accumulated by Paul Oliver (25 May 1927 - 15 August 2017), an eminent architecture and blues scholar who wrote, edited, and contributed to numerous books on blues music. The collection includes papers and documents relating to his research and writing - which extended to journalism, lectures and radio scripts in addition to books - as well as a substantial quantity of audio material and photographs. The audio includes field recordings made by Oliver, including the set of interviews with blues artists from his 1960 US field trip; recordings of BBC radio programmes presented by him; tapes relating to his research on Texas blues (many of them from his collaborator Mack McCormick); and commercial recordings in various formats (78s, 45s, LPs, CDs).

Please note that the catalogue includes the titles of published material, some of which contain overtly racist or racially offensive terms. These have been retained as part of the historical record but do not reflect the views of Oxford Brookes University or its staff.

Administrative / Biographical History

Paul Oliver (25 May 1927 - 15 August 2017) was born in Nottingham and was a noted historian of both Architecture and African American music. He grew up in Pinner, North West London and attended Harrow Art School, where he began his lifelong interest in African American music. In 1960 he won a grant from the State Department and received financing from the BBC to go to the United States and record Blues Artists. The resulting interviews and photographs from this trip were included in an exhibition at the American embassy in London, as well as providing research for further books. In 1978 he came to Oxford Brookes to join the Architecture department, and continued to research and work in both his fields of interest. He died in Oxfordshire in 2017 at the age of 90.

His publications include a book and LP giving his educational insight into blues, ‘Blues Fell this Morning’; a book containing his interviews from the 1960 American field trip, ‘Conversation with the Blues’; considered to be the first comprehensive history of the genre, ‘The Story of the Blues’; and a book on the vocal traditions on Race Records, ‘Songsters and Saints’.


The collection has been arranged in four series: Papers; Music scores; Audio and visual material; and Photographs. Where possible, original order has been maintained. The music scores were originally from the collection of John Anderson, and have been kept together as a group; some additional music scores stored with Oliver's own research papers can be found under POAAAM/1/2/6.

Access Information

Access in the special collections reading room only.

Archivist's Note

The music scores were catalogued by Louise Willis and Jodi Wilkinson, 2018. The research papers, audio reels and photographs were catalogued by Elizabeth Stubbs and Fabian Macpherson, 2021-2022.

Custodial History

Transferred from Paul Oliver's house and some books from University of Gloucestershire.

Related Material

See Paul Oliver Vernacular Architecture Library (POVAL)