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Profile of Smooth Soul/R&B Genre Quiet Storm

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Marvin Gaye Doug McKenzie/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Overview:

The ballad-laden smooth soul music style known as Quiet Storm certainly maximized mainstream appeal, using elements of jazz, R&B and pop to draw in an array of both white middle-class listeners as well as soul's core African-American audience. Heavy on romantic ballads, impassioned crooning, and a calming blend of keyboards, guitars and horns, this genre secured a reputation as late-night, mood-setting music for both urban and suburban couples. It also contains its share of memorable melodies and stirring performances of genuinely high quality.

Background:

Though pioneered by Washington, D.C. deejay Melvin Lindsey in 1975, Quiet Storm often belied its nature as a somewhat prefabricated style through its authentic blend of various sounds often referred to in the past as "black music." R&B and soul music had long made frequent use of romantic ballads, but in competition and occasional cooperation with the popular flare of disco, Quiet Storm songs usually sported mellow rhythms and melodic flourishes. By the turn of the decade, the namesake radio format had become standard across the U.S., and it also landed plenty of hit singles on the Billboard pop charts.

Early '80s Dominance:

Soul and R&B legends from Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson to crossover genre favorites like James Ingram and George Benson all saw plenty of potential in the Quiet Storm sound, and by the early part of the '80s almost everyone had gotten in on the act. The obvious overlap, however, between generally non-urban genres like soft rock, adult contemporary and Quiet Storm would not have worked so well without solid songwriting and pleasing melodies. Artists like Teddy Pendergrass, Lionel Richie, Atlantic Starr, Jeffrey Osborne and Billy Ocean were more than happy to comply.

Hip-Hop's Arrival Exerts Change:

The rising influence of early rap and hip-hop began to make its mark on Quiet Storm in major ways even before the middle of the decade passed. Ultimately, these fresh urban styles injected energy into the placid format, sharpening up its almost non-existent edges with thumping beats and less traditional vocals. Even so, the Quiet Storm has never actually ended, as highly successful artists from Whitney Houston to Luther Vandross have given way lucratively to modern neo-soul stars like Usher, Toni Braxton, John Legend and Alicia Keys.
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