From Barista to Bar-Raiser: A Chance Run-In at Starbucks Leads to Unlikely Hit for George Tandy Jr.

It's the day after George Tandy Jr.'s first opening slot on a big tour -- Marsha Ambrosius' Friends & Lovers run -- and he's still excited. "It was the largest audience I'd ever been in front of," says the singer-keyboardist, 31, of his March 27 gig at Detroit's Saint Andrew's Hall. "I'm on a mission. I've got to put the face to the song."

The song in question is "March." Its downtempo blend of gospel, R&B and jazz might be a bit unorthodox for contemporary radio. But its inspirational lyrics -- "Let the clouds bring a storm/Bring us pain...we still march" -- are attracting major syndicated radio personalities, most notably Steve Harvey. After Harvey invited Tandy to his self-titled morning show on March 18 -- where he called "March" the best song of 2014 -- sales exploded 433 percent to 16,000 downloads, according to Nielsen SoundScan, helping it debut at No. 31 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart dated April 5. The song falls to No. 47 on the April 12 chart as its post-Harvey sales bump subsides, but it's still growing on the airwaves: Overall radio audience figures ticked up 1 percent to 10.9 million listener impressions for the March 26 to April 1 tracking week, according to Nielsen BDS.

"It's stripped-down, mostly me and piano," says Tandy of the song's appeal. "When you can hear the lyrics, there's a better chance they'll stick with people."

Tandy, a Virginia native, launched his own march in 2001 when his vocal coach mom suggested he move in with his keyboardist dad in Miami. Tandy landed a barista job at Starbucks, where RedStar CEO Cima Georgevich was a regular. Georgevich heard Tandy singing in the parking lot one day and approached him; a recording deal was finalized soon after. The label pitched Tandy to Harvey and fellow syndicated stars Tom Joyner and Rickey Smiley, also big backers of "March." "Radio taking a shot with a new indie artist is rare," says Georgevich. "But it's become an organic blessing."

"George is exactly what we need," says Harvey, who invited Tandy to play at his annual Neighborhood Awards in Atlanta (Aug. 7-10). "A message, some love and some soul. The young man is just raw."

Tandy plans to wrap his debut album, "The Foundation," co-produced by his father, this month, using "March" as inspiration. "I like to call it a spiritual call to action," he says. "Everyone is marching in their own way."

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