Quiet storm is a late-night radio format, featuring soulful slow jams, pioneered in the mid-1970s by then-station-intern Melvin Lindsey at WHUR-FM, in Washington, D.C. Smokey Robinson's like-titled hit single, A Quiet Storm, released in 1975 as the title track to his third solo album, lent its name to the format and to the radio program that introduced it to the public. Encompassing a mix of African American music genres, quiet storm music is distinguished by understated, mellow dynamics and relaxed tempos and rhythms. It can be soothingly pensive, or express romantic sentiment. Quiet storm music is similar to soft rock and adult contemporary styles, but it is more closely and unmistakably rooted in R&B and soul music, often with jazz extensions.
Today, quiet storm is a broad term given to an array of mellow, slow-groove contemporary R&B, soul and smooth jazz offerings of the type featured on Melvin Lindsey's WHUR program, and on myriad other stations that followed his lead—most notably KBLX-FM in San Francisco, which in 1979 became the first radio station in the U.S. to present a 24-hour quiet storm format (which lasted 32 years, until the station was acquired in April 2011 by Entercom Broadcasting and converted to straight-ahead Urban AC 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. For many, when Robinson's trademark tenor voice wafted out over the airwaves, it signaled a welcome end to the stresses of the workday. "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 listener-ship adopted a similar format for its graveyard slot. Melvin Lindsey died of AIDS in 1992, but the "Quiet Storm" format he originated remains a staple in radio programming today, more than 30 years after its inception.
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, Barry White, and Bill Withers, much of jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery's work during his CTI (Creed Taylor, Incorporated) 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-'70s to the early '90s, after which time much of mainstream R&B took on a harder, hip-hop influenced approach.