The Paul Oliver Collection of African American Music and Related Traditions


Welcome to the Paul Oliver Collection of African American Music and Related Traditions. The archive also includes items donated from the collections of Robert Tilling, Dave Dalton and Stuart Kidd. The following is a structural summary of its content.

Various 78 rpm, 10″ long-play, 45’s, extended play 45’s, 12″ long-play and compact discs on US and English labels.

Blues Magazines:
Publications from Blues Unlimited, Melody Maker, Living Blues, Blues World, Juke Blues, Blues and Rhythm, Storyville, Sing Out and others. 

Blues Ephemera Files:
A large number of items that cover a wide range of interests from featured articles to radio broadcast scripts.

The Collection contains a large quantity of photographs and 35mm slides of African American sites and locations of blues singers, jazz musicians and vocalists, bands and instrumental groups.

Rare Publications :
Rare publications includes Early Songbooks, Catalogs, Publicity Sheets, Posters, Song Sheets and Music Sheets. 

Books :
The books within the Collection covers a range of subject matter that includes Slavery and Reconstruction, 20th Century Black History, WPA Writers Project Reports, Urban Contexts, Music and Song Traditions for Comparative Studies, Africa, European Folk Music, African American Sacred and Secular Music, the Blues, Jazz and Entertainment.

About Paul Oliver

University of Gloucestershire 2007

Attracted to the singing of Black soldiers stationed in Britain during the Second World War, in addition to his training and teaching in the arts Paul Oliver has pursued the history and development of the music which this encounter engendered, publishing his first article on the subject in Jazz Journal in 1952. A flow of essays on this topic followed.

Born in Nottingham, Britain, on 25 May 1927, Paul Hereford Oliver was schooled in Harrow, Middlesex and trained in Art and Design at Harrow College of Art (National Diploma in Design, 1948), and Goldsmiths College (Art Teacher’s Diploma, 1949). He taught Art at secondary school level throughout the 1950s, soon after his qualification taking up a position at Harrow County Grammar School, which he had attended in his teens. In this period he also contributed illustrations to a variety of publications. Between 1955 and 1960 he gave regular public lectures at both the National Gallery of Art, and the Tate Gallery of Modern Art in London.

Blues Fell This Morning, first published 1960

Blues Fell This Morning,
first published 1960

While preparing and writing a study of the blues using themes expressed in the lyrics to recordings, he published Bessie Smith (Cassell, 1959) an account of the life of this significant vaudeville blues personality. This was followed soon after byBlues Fell This Morning: the meaning of the blues (Cassell, 1960), his analysis of recorded blues in the light of social circumstance. The same year he was awarded a Foreign Specialist Grant by the United States Department of State to undertake field work in the United States investigating the lives and social milieu of both contemporary and past blues singers, including circumstances in which they performed and recorded.

Blind Arvella Gray, Maxwell Street, Chicago 1960

Blind Arvella Gray, Maxwell Street, Chicago 1960

This trans-American journey, took in northern urban centres (Washington, D.C., New York City, Detroit and Chicago) and cities and rural settlements in several southern states — Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas, plus California and St. Louis, Missouri. Two BBC radio programmes featuring this material were aired in 1961, and he has broadcast regularly on many aspects of the blues tradition.

The 1960 investigation resulted in Conversation With The Blues (Cassell, 1965), a work that engages thematically with the lives of performers and their associates across the spectrum of their activities — for some, from tent show to vaudeville stage, for others from rural share-crop farming to urban dance halls and club-land. Managers and other promoters are also included in the ‘conversation,’ which is peppered with significant photographs, taken during the 1960 expedition.

On his return from the U.S.A. in 1960 Paul Oliver moved his primary discipline from Art, to Architecture (his father’s profession) taking up a post as Senior Lecturer in Arts and History at the School of the Architectural Association in London where he worked until 1973. In this context he visited Ghana in 1964 where he also undertook fieldwork related to his musical interests: one result being his monograph Savannah Syncopators: African Retentions in the Blues(Studio Vista, 1970).

Maxwell St Jimmy with King David on harp, Maxwell Street, Chicago 1960

Maxwell St Jimmy with King David on harp, Maxwell Street, Chicago 1960

His exhibition of photographs and ephemera relating to development of blues in general, was held at the United States Embassy in Grosvenor Square London in 1965, it featured many pictures taken during his 1960 field trip to the U.S.A. The entity formed the foundation of his seminal work The Story of the Blues, which was published in 1969 (Barrie & Rockliff, the Cresset Press).


Throughout the 1970s, Paul Oliver concentrated his publications on architectural themes, in particular vernacular architecture, publishing a series of books on the subject of Shelter. He became Director of Art and Design at Dartington College of Arts, in 1973 a post he vacated in 1978 when he moved to Oxford Polytechnic (later Oxford Brookes University) to become the Associate Head of the Department of Architecture (an assignment held until 1988).

Blues Off The Record, first published 1984

Blues Off The Record,
first published 1984


In the 1980s he published Blues Off The Record: Thirty Years Of Blues Commentary(Baton Press, 1984) a selected collection of his earlier writings on blues, and in the same year an analysis of proto-blues and black sacred music — Songsters and Saints: Vocal Traditions on Race Records (Cambridge University Press) that supplements his earlier works on the origins and development of forms of Black American vernacular music. More books on architecture followed, including the comprehensive and pioneering 3-volume Encyclopedia of Vernacular Architecture of the World, which he conceived and edited. This was published by Cambridge University Press in 1997. He has continued to research and write books and articles concerning these two major fields of interest.




Details to follow


Details to follow


Here is a link to a PDF of catalogued books: PO Catalogue online