Melissa Rawlins
January 29, 1993 AT 05:00 AM EST

Shai, the R&B harmony group now enjoying a huge, out-of-nowhere pop hit with ”If I Ever Fall in Love,” is named for the Swahili word meaning ”personification of destiny.” But the world might never have heard of the Howard University quartet if lead vocalist Carl ”Groove” Martin, 22, hadn’t taken fate into his own hands.

Last August, after a promotional softball game sponsored by Washington, D.C., radio station WPGC-FM, Martin handed the group’s $400 demo tape to deejay Paco Lopez, who agreed to consider playing the song on his Sunday local-music showcase. Instead, WPGC program director Jay Stevens heard the song and put it in heavy rotation. Within a week, the tape was on stations in five major cities, and, as Shai guy Garfield Bright, 23, says, ”That put pressure on the record companies because they realized we were a good commodity.” By mid- September, they had signed an eight-record deal with Gasoline Alley/MCA. And by early ’93, the song was No. 2 in the country, and the group’s debut album was in the top 10.

The fluke success of ”If I Ever Fall in Love” is an ”example of the great things radio can do,” says Ken Barnes, editor of Radio & Records magazine. Shai knows just how great. After appearances on The Arsenio Hall Show and The Tonight Show, the group is preparing for a national tour in March. Back in August, says Bright, ”We were in the trenches of obscurity.” For the foreseeable future, Shai couldn’t be standing on more solid ground.

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