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Quiet storm is a radio format and a "super genre" of contemporary R&B, jazz fusion and pop music that is characterized by understated, mellow dynamics, slow tempos, and relaxed rhythms. It was pioneered in the mid-1970s by Melvin Lindsey, while he was an intern at the radio station WHUR-FM in Washington, D.C.. This format was named after Smokey Robinson's 1976 album A Quiet Storm.
The listening audience of quiet storm was mainly "upscale urban" African Americans. The term quiet storm became a blanket term for mellow or soulful slow jams and smooth jazz of the sort played by radio programs influenced by Melvin Lindsey's format.
Melvin Lindsey, a student at Howard University, with his classmate Jack Shuler, was first a disc jockey for WHUR in 1976 as stand-ins for an employee who failed to report for work. The response from listeners was positive, and Lindsey stayed on. Founder of Radio One Cathy Hughes, WHUR station manager, heard of the show's positive reception and responded by giving Lindsey and Shuler their own show.
After a time, the strains of "A Quiet Storm," Robinson's popular recording, became Lindsey's theme music and introduced his time slot every night thereafter. "The Quiet Storm" was four hours of melodically soulful music that provided an intimate, laid-back mood tailor-made for late-night listening, and that was the key to its tremendous appeal among adult audiences. The format was an immediate success, becoming so popular that within a few years, virtually every station in the U.S. with a core black, urban listenership adopted a similar format for its graveyard slot. In the New York tri-state late night market Vaughn Harper D.J'd the quiet storm graveyard program for WBLS-FM which he helmed for 35 years until being released from the station in 2008. Melvin Lindsey died of AIDS in 1992, but the quiet storm format he originated remains a staple in radio programming today, more than 40 years after its inception. WHUR radio still has a quiet storm show (now under the title The Original Quiet Storm); and many urban, black radio stations still reserve their late-night programming slots for quiet storm music, as well. WHUR operator Howard University has registered "Quiet Storm" as a trademark for "entertainment services, namely, a continuing series of radio programs featuring music."
Quiet storm programming is credited with launching the careers of Luther Vandross and Anita Baker, and with introducing Sade to U.S. audiences. Classic quiet storm recordings include Frankie Beverly and Maze's "Golden Time of Day," Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On", the orchestrations of Philadelphia soul, the recordings of Al Green, Gil Scott-Heron, Barry White, and Bill Withers, much of jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery's work during his CTI Records years, and the work of jazz-funk saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr. In 1986, Peabo Bryson released an album entitled Quiet Storm.
Quiet storm was most popular as a programming niche with baby boomers from the mid-1970s to the early 1990s. During this era, it promoted a noticeable shift in the sound of R&B of the time. People such as Al Green, Luther Vandross, and Minnie Riperton became the faces of R&B without the traditional "grit" and a shift in the focus to sexual activities. Some, such as Mark Anthony Neal, believe that this shift represents a cultural appropriation to make R&B more marketable to white audience. Others argue that it is simply representing a growing new class of black authenticity—affluent or middle-class African Americans who, while still black, are still represented by musical genres beyond gangsta rap or hip-hop. After this period much of mainstream R&B took on a harder, hip-hop influenced approach.
Music journalist Jason King wrote, "Sensuous and pensive, quiet storm is seductive R&B, marked by jazz flourishes, 'smooth grooves,' and tasteful lyrics about intimate subjects. As disco gave way to the 'urban contemporary' format at the outset of the 1980s, quiet storm expanded beyond radio to emerge as a broad catchall super-genre."
In the 1990s, Canadian adult contemporary station CFQR-FM in Montreal aired a Quiet Storm program featuring new-age music. At least two non-commercial FM stations, the community-based WGDR in Plainfield, Vermont, and its sister station, WGDH in Hardwick, Vermont (both owned by Goddard College), have been broadcasting a weekly, two-hour "Quiet Storm" program since 1998—a 50-50 mix of smooth jazz and soft R&B, presented in "Triple-A" (Album Adult Alternative) style, with a strong emphasis on "B" and "C" album tracks that most commercial stations often ignore.
Most recently, in 2007, Premiere Radio Networks launched a nationally syndicated nightly radio program based upon the quiet storm format, known as The Keith Sweat Hotel. That program, in edited form, broadcasts under the Quiet Storm name (as The Quiet Storm with Keith Sweat) on WBLS in New York City.
- King, Jason (2007). "The Sound of Velvet Melting". In Weisbard, Eric. Listen Again: A Momentary History of Pop Music. Duke University Press. pp. 172–199. ISBN 0822390558. Retrieved December 24, 2014.
- "Quiet Storm". AllMusic. Retrieved December 24, 2014.
- http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1077/is_7_55/ai_61963167[permanent dead link]
- United States Patent and Trademark Office.
- "Keith Sweat Joins WBLS as Host of The Quiet Storm", Premiere Networks, December 28, 2009.