I just read an essay by Paul Oliver, one of the best-known historians of the blues, about why it is that much of the best and earliest work on the blues had long been done by Europeans.
Swedes, Belgians, Germans, French, Englishmen and others wrote exhaustive studies of the meanings of blues songs, compiled 2000-page catalogs of blues 78s, founded some of the first magazines anywhere devoted to blues — all of this long before America had a "blues revival."
Charles Delaunay had to write "Hot Discography" secretly, on onion skin, because he was in the middle of the Nazi occupation of France. When Paul Oliver (a Brit) wrote "The Blues Fell This Morning," Martin Luther King wrote the introduction.
In 1960 — the year "The Blues Fell This Morning" was published — Paul Oliver finally scraped up enough money to actually visit the United States, the birthplaces of the blues he loved so much. He traveled to Washington, New York, Detroit, Memphis, New Orleans, Shreveport, Dallas and various parts of Mississippi and Arkansas. He stayed with Muddy Waters in Chicago and traveled with Chris Strachwitz, who founded Arhoolie records using some of the recordings they made. The impact of the trip on Oliver's life and scholarship was incalculable.
The trip was made possible by a very small grant from the U.S. Department of State — a grant "for leaders and specialists."
I don't know whether such grants still come out of the State Department or from anywhere else in the U.S. government anymore. I do hear frequent stories of scholars having to give presentations to conferences in the U.S. via telephone or satellite hook-up due to difficulties getting temporary visas to travel here — and I mean British astronomers and Swedish music historians and the like. I often read about such incidents in left-wing rags like ... Sky and Telescope, for example. Bad times, bad times.
Editor's Note: Paul Oliver's essay is in "Sounds of the South," a collection of papers from a conference celebrating the 1989 opening of the Southern Folklife Collection at Chapel Hill. It was edited by Daniel W. Patterson ... and I'm finding it really interesing. Also, thanks to reader Bill B. for, among other things, correcting my spelling of Chris Strachwitz's name.