"I’m Melvin Lindsey and you’re listening to 'The Quiet Storm.'"
From D.C.'s WHUR 96.3 to the world, Melvin Lindsey transformed radio starting in the 1970s with his playlist of slow jams. His program was a way to escape and relax, and it created a blueprint for stations across the country.
Decades after the creation of the show and Lindsey’s 1992 death of AIDS, his legacy lives on in D.C. and beyond. He was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame this fall.
"You didn't even have to have a radio in D.C. All you had to do is open the window. You couldn't help but hear 'The Quiet Storm.' That's how popular it was. It was the air that D.C. breathed," said Donnie Simpson, host of "The Donnie Simpson Morning Show."
He created an ambience with the music he played on the airwaves. Lindsey's selections, which could include Patti LaBelle, Luther Vandross and Peabo Bryson, depended on his mood, colleagues said. He used his smooth voice to guide listeners through the songs and tell a story.
"The next couple of songs I’m going to play have a lot of meaning for me," Lindsey once said on the air. "I want you to listen to the words. They’re dedicated from me to you. And then I’ll be back to say something before I go. But listen to these. They’re just for you."
"He was just cool. Melvin was very classy, suave. You know, he was just top-shelf.
And you felt that even if you never met him, he was just a very classy guy," Simpson said.
Lindsey influenced the way stations played music.
"Melvin created something here that just took off, and it's taken off across the country. You almost can't go to a city and not find a Quiet Storm or somebody with that same trying to emulate with Melvin created," Sean Plater, WHUR's general manager, said.
The Beginning of 'Quiet Storm'
Lindsey hosted a radio program for the first time on a Sunday night in May 1976. He was a junior at Howard University when the then-general manager at WHUR, Cathy Hughes, needed a substitute DJ. She called Lindsey.
The name of the show came from Hughes, Lindsey told The Washington Post. "Cathy said I was very quiet and I struck her like a storm. I surprised her like a storm,” he said.
News4 anchor Pat Lawson Muse and Lindsey were in the same classes and worked at WHUR at the same time.
"Melvin was quiet, unassuming — barely knew he was there. But he had a megawatt smile and a wonderful voice. And when you heard the voice you would stop and say, 'Oh, who is that?'" Muse said.
Howard University was in the middle of a racial awakening.
"Students were coming into their own. They were proud again to be Black and to express their Blackness," Muse said.
And the radio played a prominent role.
"Black radio was the way we got our information, the way we communicated with one another, the way we learned about what was going on in the neighborhood," Muse said.
A Master of Mixing
"The Quiet Storm" started a music revolution at WHUR.
The show initially ran on the weekends. It expanded to a five-hour nightly show in November 1977. It became No. 1 in its time slot within a year.
"There was no place, really, that you could just listen to slow jams all night long. People were in the mood for romance," Muse said. "Melvin Lindsey as the host barely speaking, but mixing and blending and segueing those songs to the point where it was so subtle you didn't even realize when the songs were changing."
Lindsey's way of blending music gave him power to play whatever he wanted. Many on-air personalities and DJs don't have control over the music they play, but Lindsey was the exception.
"A station owner will tell you that their FCC license is too important to give that responsibility to the person who's playing the records, and they don't allow it," said Amy Goldson, who represented Lindsey.
Goldson was steadfast in negotiating one deal point for Lindsey: creative control over the music he played.
"He's the only one that I know, only client — and I've represented many, many, many radio people — that was able to select his own music," Goldson said.
Music was at the center of Lindsey's show.
"He was a master," Muse said. "He knew how to mix that music, and he knew how to step back and let the music be the star of the show."
It was all about setting the perfect mood.
"If he came to work and he was sad, he was going to make you sad. If he came happy, he was going to uplift you in his music," said Joe Gorham, WHUR's music director.
Lindsey's Love for DC
Lindsey gave back to the District. Loved ones remember him as someone who loved D.C., especially Southwest. He was a regular at festivals there.
"He would host them and people would come from everywhere, all up and down Maine Avenue, and he'd be in his convertible," his sister, Brenda, said. "He loved D.C., and he was such a city person."
Gorham credits Lindsey's popularity to his involvement in the community.
"He'd go to high schools and speak, colleges. He'd do things for African American organizations, and that's how basically he got popular," Gorham said.
In 1985, Lindsey left WHUR for competitor WKYS. His contract was for $1 million, a historic amount usually not given to night DJs.
"He was the only person on this Earth that I could pay that kind of money to at that time," Simpson said. "I gave that to Melvin to do nights. That was unheard of. Most people were making a quarter of that, but he was the only person that I could do that for."
Lindsey's heart stayed at Howard, though.
"He wasn't pretentious. He got a $1 million contract at a time when that wasn't happening a lot, but he didn't carry it like that," said Karen Campbell, former WHUR journalist. "He was still a Howardite, your friend, a Washingtonian, who happened to be on the radio."
Lindsey's sister, Brenda, said it was a big shock when she learned the DJ had AIDS. He was working at WKYS and was hosting a show on BET at the time.
"He had to keep it being on the radio, being on BET. He was on television for a while, so he had to sort of watch the crowd, the people he socialized with. He kept it quiet," Brenda said.
Lindsey was not out as gay at the time.
"In 1984, there was the fear there was just terror that something you know was coming. It wasn't quite here yet, but everyone knew it was coming," said Cornelius Baker, a D.C. HIV advocate.
HIV came to D.C. quietly and quickly. And then the crisis escalated. Baker recalled a funeral a week in the '80s and early '90s.
"We had a very dynamic gay community here in D.C., and a lot of people were flocking to D.C. to work for the federal government, like I did," said LGBTQ activist Leti Gomez. "But at the same time, we have this disease that was ravaging all our communities."
Goldson explained the stigma that surrounded HIV and AIDS at the time.
"People didn't know what that was. And you almost became a pariah," she said.
"I think at that time, I was aware that Melvin had AIDS. He told me," Goldson said. "All I could do at that point was try to be supportive because he wasn't willing to come out publicly."
Goldson was negotiating what she knew would be Lindsey's last deal.
"I did not discuss it with his employer. I wasn't authorized to do that at that
point," she said about Lindsey's diagnosis.
Weakened by the disease, Lindsey began working at WPGC and stopped working the night shift.
"He preferred to be early because he knew that these were his last days," Goldson said.
Campbell conducted Lindsey's final interview on WHUR, days before he died. He wanted to connect with his listeners and tell them how much he cared about them. And he spoke openly about having AIDS.
"People called and nobody had a negative word. Everybody was encouraging, loving. There was laughter," Campbell said about that interview. "He talked openly about the disease that he was fighting. He talked openly about his family. He talked a lot about his family. A lot about how much he loved his family."
The D.C. DJ was showered with gifts in his final days. Lindsey described people stopping him in the grocery store to wish him well, as well as making him apple pie, lasagna and brownies.
"People have done unrealistic things to show their love. I really have appreciated," he said in his final interview.
"He realized that people with AIDS can be loved," Goldson said.
Lindsey died on March 26, 1992. He was 36.
"When I found out he passed away. I cried. It hurt. I still cry about it, and it still
hurts," Campbell said. "I miss him a lot."
Lindsey was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame this October.
Simpson participated in Lindsey's nomination.
"It's an unbelievable experience, to watch that whole nominating selection process. It made me one thousand times more appreciative of my induction, because it's not easy," he said. "I told them, you're talking about a guy who created a format."
Almost 50 years after it began, "The Quiet Storm" lives on. It's now hosted by John Monds.
"I don't really feel pressure. But you know, there's a standard that's been set and you know that you have to keep up with that," Monds said. "Either you need to take it a step higher or at least, you know, keep it where it was or where it is.
There have been some changes to the music.
"I think initially it was really Melvin finding music that, you know, that he really dug and turned everybody onto," Monds said. "Now we have these 40 years, 50 years of music that we have to choose from."
He describes it now as "newer and less jazzy than it was back in the those days," when Lindsey hosted.
Years after his death, Lindsey still has loving fans. WHUR once hosted a Melvin Lindsey special on Valentine's Day. The phones rang off the hook.
"You could just tell that there's just still this passion for what Melvin created and what that Quiet Storm meant," Plater said.
Lindsey may never have known how revolutionary his show was.
"I think Melvin would probably be surprised to learn that we're still talking about
him, that the show is still on the air and that they're still using the same intro. Still using Smokey Robinson's song," Muse said.
Simpson said he has an old photo in his studio of himself with Lindsey.
"Every day when I go up to do the radio show, I look at it and I just give Melvin a fist pump," Simpson said.
That fist pump was a little different when Lindsey was honored this fall.
"That day I gave him a fist pump and a lot of tears, said, 'You made it, brother. You're in the Hall of Fame.'"