Vaughn Harper in New York City

WBLS radio personalities Vaughn Harper and Debi B attend Harlem Week's 38th Anniversary Celebration at Ulysses S. Grant National Memorial Park on July 29, 2012 in New York City. 

Charles Norfleet/WireImage

Vaughn Harper, a veteran WBLS New York personality who possessed one of R&B radio’s most iconic baritone voices, died July 9. He was 71.

Nicknamed “Velvet Voice,” Harper was a major pioneer of the smooth and soulful “Quiet Storm” R&B/blues/jazz format at WBLS that became popular in the early '80s. According to published reports, Harper had been battling health issues over the last few years.

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“Vaughn leaves us with a legacy that will forever remind us of the magical atmosphere radio delivers when the right mix of music and spoken word comes together,” WBLS operations manager/program director Skip Dillard tells Billboard. “Vaughn was also a musicologist, literally a walking musical encyclopedia ranging from jazz to R&B and crossover. And I won’t even begin to name any of the dozens of artists that received their break after appearing and having their record played on the ‘Quiet Storm.’”

The native New Yorker was born March 7, 1945. Before radio, basketball was the 6-foot-4 Harper’s first love. A star player at both Boys High in Brooklyn and Syracuse University, he became a fifth-round draft pick for the Detroit Pistons. Later recruited, trained and mentored by legendary WBLS radio personality/programmer Frankie Crocker, Harper joined the station in 1976.

Although he suffered a stroke in 1993, Harper recovered and returned to the WBLS airwaves. He also lent his voice to commercials, the Grand Theft Auto IV video game and the Apollo Theater as master of ceremonies for the venue’s famed “Amateur Night” talent contests. Inducted into the Living Legends Hall of Fame, Harper retired from WBLS in 2008 after more than three decades on the air.