Vaughn Harper, Silky-Voiced D.J., Dies at 70
By DANIEL E. SLOTNIKJULY 11, 2016
Vaughn Harper in an undated photo. WBLS
Vaughn Harper, a disc jockey who kept New Yorkers company after dark for decades with soothing music and a sleek baritone voice on the WBLS radio show “Quiet Storm,” died on Saturday in Englewood, N.J. He was 70.
The cause was complications of diabetes, his wife, Sandra Harper, said.
Mr. Harper joined WBLS in 1976 after Frankie Crocker, the station’s program director, heard him working as a nightclub M.C. His show took the name “Quiet Storm” in the early 1980s.
“Quiet Storm” opened with the sound of a soft breeze and seamlessly blended different eras and styles of music, from blues to smooth jazz to contemporary R&B — a new Luther Vandross song might be followed by a classic from Nat King Cole, for example — all of it anchored by Mr. Harper’s singular, intimate voice. The show quickly became a nightly staple for city dwellers and a signature for WBLS, which was for many years one of the top-rated stations in New York.
One of the secrets of the show’s popularity was that it conveyed a feeling of repose rather than adhering to a strict musical format. “The essence of the show is the fact that it’s not a show to me,” Mr. Harper told Newsday in 1988. “I try to present it more as a mood than a show.”
Then there was the warm pull of Mr. Harper’s voice, which has been described as, among other things, “like dark chocolate melting in your mouth” and “so smooth and easy it washes over the listener’s ears like a warm shower.”
With a voice like that, Mr. Harper would seem a natural for radio. But he might never have ended up behind a microphone if his professional basketball career had worked out.
Vaughn Harper (he later added a middle name, Ian) was born in Harlem on March 1, 1946, and grew up there. Standing 6-foot-4 by the time he was a teenager, he became a standout basketball player for Boys High School in Brooklyn. In 1962 he scored 12 points to help Boys High defeat George W. Wingate High School, 50-45, for the Public Schools Athletic League title.
He attended Syracuse University on a basketball scholarship and played on the varsity team for three seasons. He was nicknamed the Kangaroo Kid on campus because of his lofty jumps.
Alongside teammates like Dave Bing, a future Hall of Fame player and mayor of Detroit, and Jim Boeheim, now Syracuse’s coach, he helped Syracuse reach the round of eight in the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament in 1966. As a senior he led the team in scoring, with 15.8 points per game, and over his career he scored a total of 1,070 points and averaged 10.9 rebounds per game.
He graduated in 1968 and was drafted by the Detroit Pistons, but his career never took off.
In 1988 he married Sandra Ross, with whom he lived in Teaneck, N.J. In addition to her, he is survived by three daughters, Dionnee Harper, Brieanna Nesbitt and Melanie Garrett.
Mr. Harper’s radio career nearly came to an end after he had a stroke in 1993, but eventually he returned to the airwaves. He also worked for the New York-area stations WBGO, WWRL and WTJM, but ended his career back at WBLS in 2008. He was also the voice of a disc jockey on one of the stations available to players in the video game “Grand Theft Auto IV.”
Mr. Harper told The Daily News in 2001 that he lamented the lack of perspective of younger fans when it came to music, but that it was not entirely their fault.
“You have kids today who have never even heard of Nancy Wilson or Sarah Vaughan,” he said. “Radio needs to say, ‘This is someone you should listen to and know about.’”
Correction: July 11, 2016
An earlier version of this obituary misstated the year of Mr. Harper’s birth. He was born on March 1, 1946, not 1936. (As the obituary correctly noted, he was 70.)