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Band members include Garfield Bright, (born October 21, 1969, in Nashville, TN), vocals; Marc Gay,(BornJanuary 21, 1969, in Miami, FL), vocals; CarlMartin, ("Groove", born August 29, 1970, in Lafayette, LA),vocals; Darnell Van Rensalier, (born May 17, 1970, inPatterson, NJ), vocals. Addresses: Record company-Gasoline Alley/MCA, 1755 Broadway, Eighth Floor,New York, NY, 10019.
In the early 1990s, a trend of harmonized male R&B acts such as Color Me Badd, H-Town,and Boyz II Men ushered in Washington D.C.'s Shai. Taking their cue from a number of somber influences of the past, including church choirs, doo-wop singers, and barbershop quartets, Shai forged the contemporary sounding album If I Ever Fall In Love, which topped both pop and R&B charts. While the critical merits of Shai's work were debated, none could deny the inspired delivery of the group's vocals. Shai followed up their debut with a number of releases that retained the same stunning arrangements which sometimes overshadowed the group's own songwriting.
Shai banded together in 1990 on the campus of Howard University in Washington, D.C. when English major Carl "Groove" Martin and music student Darnell Van Rensalier were pledging the fraternity of Alpha Phi Alpha. Despite the two some's differences in educational background, they were bound by a shared love for a cornucopia of musical tastes, including hip-hop, the classic 1970s funk of singer/guitarist George Clinton, and instrumental soundtracks. Martin and Van Rensalier began entering local talent shows as an a cappella duo but soon decided that a quartet would offer more range. They attracted zoology major Marc Gay and Van Rensalier's ex-roommate Garfield Bright into their project.
Gay stumbled upon the name "Shai" in the Egyptian Book of the Dead while looking for a nickname for a fellow fraternity brother. The foursome decided to take the name, which means"personification of destiny," as their own. Taking their new moniker to heart, the group quicklyset out to make themselves stars. Martin had written the song "If I Ever Fall In Love" during across-country car trip, and believed the song was an inspired gift. This made the group work even harder to find it a public. "I swear, that song came to me," Martin beamed to People in April of1993. "Here's verse one; here's the chorus; here's verse two ... I didn't think about it. I didn'twrite it down. I didn't do anything. I think God sent it, I really do."
With a borrowed 100 dollars, Shai created its first demo tape but was unable to spark the interest of any talent scouts during a promotional visit to New York City. Undaunted, the quartet chose to enter "If I Ever Fall In Love" in a listener's choice contest at Washington, D.C. radio station WPGC. Although Shai later admitted to supplying several of the requests for the song themselves, the station's disc jockey was bombarded by phone callers. Not only did the song win the contest, but it infiltrated the playlists of WPGC and at sister stations in Houston, Texas andPhoenix, Arizona. Having eluded the usual channels of building success, Shai was quickly courted by Gasoline Alley, a branch of MCA records, with whom the group signed an impressive seven-album contract.
Not Shy Towards Success
Shai released "If I Ever Fall In Love" as a single in the fall of 1992, and it was as popular nationally as it was in the group's hometown. With a variety of material already in hand, the group was able to squeeze the recording of their debut album, also called If I Ever Fall In Love, into the 1992 calendar. Recorded in several weeks, the record offered a number of ballads and up-tempo numbers in addition to the title cut, and broke the top ten in both R&B and pop charts, finallygoing double platinum in the following year.
There was no critical mandate on If I Ever Fall In Love's overall merits, but most writers were in accord as to the strength of Shai's sensual vocal talents. "The effect is an intense, intimate emotional atmosphere," Michael Eric Dyson wrote of the album in Rolling Stone. "Shai joins the spiritual yearnings of [vocal contemporaries] Take Six with the secular pull of [Philadelphia soul quartet] Boyz II Men. That tension between desire and fulfillment give's Shai's work a haunting luminescence - and makes for a riveting art."
Other critics found that while the group's singing was pleasant enough, the overall strength of their material was an impediment. "Shai ... sing serious, mournful harmonies that work best on ballads like the a cappella (and monstrously successful) title song as well as 'Comforter' and'Sexual,'" penned Village Voice critic Nelson George in May of 1993. "But Shai's dance music is unconvincing and overall this twelve cut collection is too mellow by far." To Shai's credit, the band did write all of their material, with chief tune smith Martin also taking on production duties- something that many of their "neo-doo-wop" contemporaries, such as Color Me Badd, were unable to do. Nonetheless, both "Comforter" and "Baby I'm Yours" also ranked high on more than one chart.
Shai capitalized on their national popularity with a number of live performances, including a European tour. Early in 1993, the group was given an impressive invitation to perform at thePresidential Inauguration which Shai accepted. Perhaps equally notable was the group'sperformance in New York City at the Apollo Theater's Hall of Fame all-star concert in June of 1993. Wearing zoot suits in homage to R&B harmonizers of the past, the group delivered a version of "Java Jive," a standard of the vocal quartet the Ink Spots during the 1940s and 1950s. Along with the suddenness of playing such prestigious events, Shai was also bemused by its new found status as teen heartthrobs. "Sometimes girls scream and run in the opposite direction," Bright confessed to People, "or else they'll freeze with their mouths hanging open."
Second Album Disappointed Many
Shai finished off their busy year with the release of a collection of remixes and live tracks entitled Right Back At Cha, after which the group took a break from the studio. When the group returned to make their second full length album Blackface, Shai spent a great deal more time to craft their new songs than they had with their debut. "We were rushed on delivering that album[If I Ever Fall In Love]," Bright admitted to J.R. Reynolds in Billboard in 1995. "Since then,we've really got a chance to get to know each other musically, which helped fine-tune our focus for Blackface, which took nine months to produce."
The band concentrated on making a more rhythm-based effort with their second album, as well as on giving it a more adult-oriented appeal. Unfortunately, like many young groups who self-consciously opt for a mature image, Shai suffered in popularity and Blackface was an overall disappointment. Still, the band continued to make music and maintained that the album and its title were a perfect banner for Shai's uplifting "personification of destiny." "The face behind any face is a blank, empty face that you can draw on to obtain peace and creativity," Garfield explainedto Reynolds. "There's a potential for everyone to connect. Every creature made up of energy -it's a totally positive vibe. The trick is to connect with it."
by Shaun Frentner
Band formed in Washington, D.C. by Martin and Van Rensalier, 1990; won a "make-it-or-break-it" radio contest with demo tape, making "If I Ever Fall In Love" a local smash, 1992;signed a seven record deal with Gasoline Alley and release debut album If I Ever Fall In Love,1992; perform at President Bill Clinton's Inauguration, 1993; appeared at Hall of Fame show atthe legendary Apollo Theater alongside 1970s singers Al Green and Teddy Pendergrass in Julyof 1993; released Right Back At Cha, 1993; released Blackface, 1995.
- Selected discography
- If I Ever Fall In Love , Gasoline Alley/MCA, 1992.
- Right Back At Cha , Gasoline Alley/MCA, 1993.
- Blackface , Gasoline Alley/MCA, 1995.
- Billboard, January 9, 1993; July 3, 1993; August 19, 1995.
- People Weekly, April 5, 1993.
- Rolling Stone, April 1, 1993.
- Village Voice, May 11, 1993.
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