By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
Welcome to Third Thursdays! This series—published in the Birmingham Times on the third Thursday of every month—highlights area citizens who overcome odds to make a difference in their own lives or those who make a difference in the lives of others.
Sanchez Tanniehill was a happy and healthy baby—until he was 6 weeks old.
“I came home looking good,” he said. “My mom put me down for my daily nap, came back in the room to check on me, and realized my lips had turned blue. Like any other mom, she rushed me to the nearest hospital, [where] they found that I’d had a stroke at 6 weeks old. On top of that, I had spinal meningitis.”
Tanniehill’s family was told he would never speak or be able to walk on his own, and he would be completely blind, but “God had other plans for me,” he said.
Today, the 34-year-old Alabaster, Alabama, native is a singer, motivational speaker, and author. He has released two albums, and last summer he published “God Did It,” a book about his journey.
Never Treated Differently
Tanniehill’s health complications at 6 weeks old left him paralyzed on his left side and blind in his left eye. He also struggles with dyslexia, but he was never treated differently by his parents or others.
“If my [two] brothers got a whooping, I got a whooping,” he said. “I was in regular classes in school. The other kids were nice, so I was never treated any different because of it.”
Tanniehill attended Thompson elementary, middle, and high schools in Alabaster. While in elementary school, he participated in the Special Olympics.
“I did the shot put, softball throw, and bowling,” he said. “[Special Olympics] was fun because it did give me a chance to play sports, which I never had done before. It was a great experience.”
In middle school Tanniehill started singing.
“I grew up singing, running around the house with my karaoke machine, [then] … I started doing talent shows,” he said. “A lot of my friends would tell me about [different] shows and [encourage me to] try out, so I did, and I liked it. The next year came around, and [they] said, ‘Let’s do it again,’ so I did it again.”
Tanniehill continued singing through high school, and during his senior year he was encouraged by a cousin to record a demo tape: “I prayed about it and thought, ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ So, I went into the studio, recorded my first CD, and said, ‘Yeah, I could see myself doing this after high school.’”
After graduating from Thompson High School in 2003, Tanniehill went to work for the Birmingham Barons.
“I was Babe Ruff, [mascot for the Birmingham Barons], for a while,” he said. “I liked that, but my heart was really in music.”
In 2006, Tanniehill tried out for the hit television show American Idol when it came to Birmingham for auditions.
“I met all different types of people, [even the show’s host] Ryan Seacrest, but I only made it to the second round,” he said. “One of the reasons I only made it to the second round was because they put us in pairs, and the guy I was paired with messed up ‘Sweet Home Alabama’—he was from Florida.”
Tanniehill said he would have tried out again in 2007, but he had surpassed the maximum age to audition. Even without American Idol, his music started to reach people. In 2008, he was invited to perform at the city of Alabaster’s annual CityFest, where he performed songs from his demo tape, “Just Me,” and saw how people responded to his story and his music.
“I spoke with attendees after the show, and many of them willingly shared their own stories with me of how God intervened in their lives,” Tanniehill said. “They were inspired by how I gave Him glory for bringing good from the bad I had experienced. God was … using me as a vessel through which His glory was being poured.”
“God Did It”
After his CityFest performance, Tanniehill re-recorded his demo tape and released it as an album in 2009. He also started touring locally, doing shows at churches and other events.
“I was selling my CDs out of the trunk of my mama’s car,” he said. “[If] anybody wanted a CD, I would sell it to them or give it to them.”
Tanniehill released his second album, “Work of an Artist,” in 2012.
“I was finding myself with that album,” he said. “I found the lane and what direction I wanted to go in, and that album [gave] people hope no matter what their circumstances were. That album featured a lot of people that were local like me, [including] Alvin “Cornbread” Garrett of Just a Few Cats and gospel artist LP (Like Paul).
“I had a vision one night and said, ‘I’m going to write a song about my story.’ I got all excited, went in my parents’ room at one in the morning, and told them about it. … Then I called my producer and told him I wanted to do a song about my story because everybody has a story to share, but it’s up to you to share it. That’s when ‘God Did It’ came about.”
Tanniehill’s single, “God Did It,” was released on iTunes in 2014, and Tanniehill turned it into a brand featuring a variety of products, including T-shirts, hats, hoodies, sweatpants, mugs, auto accessories, and even home décor and baby items (select items are available for purchase at goddidit.store/gdi/shop/home).
“The song says, ‘Look at me. I’m a living testimony. I’m not supposed to be able to tell my story. Just when everybody gave up on me, He did it again. [The song] just tells my story, and people responded to it really well.”
“Trust in Him”
Tanniehill gives motivational speeches during some of his singing engagements and book signings. He’s taken his message as near as the Lakeshore Foundation in Homewood and as far as El Salvador, where he visits once a year. He started taking the annual trip to Central America in 2017, when he partnered with a ministry from Bibb County. Tanniehill said he prayed about whether to travel there and decided to go.
“I go [to El Salvador] every year to share my story with the kids in school,” he said. “We do 10 schools for that whole week and share our testimonies. I thought I was being a blessing, but, no, they blessed me.”
Tanniehill said he remembers a little boy coming up to him and saying, “You changed my life when I was ready to give up. … I look at life totally different.”
“That touched me right there. I didn’t know what to do,” said Tanniehill. “That’s how El Salvador blessed me. That one message from that little boy, who was in eighth grade, I think, blessed me.”
Tanniehill now has a team of 35—10 in Alabama and others everywhere from New York to Georgia to California to Florida—helping him share his story and teaching people to share theirs. He uses the proceeds from his endeavors to sponsor an orphanage in Sierra Leone and to fund the mission trips to El Salvador.
His book, “God Did It,” released in July 2018, is an inspirational story that mixes the scripture he uses to get through daily with his own personal testimony, Tanniehill said. One scripture he finds inspirational is Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ that strengthens me.”
Tanniehill said his story is about experiencing the power of prayer.
“I was miraculously healed and protected as a child from what could have been a life-and-death situation,” he said. “But God uses that experience to give me a platform to share the good news with the world. Prayer is more than just asking God to intervene in a difficult situation. It’s a way to demonstrate a complete dependence on and trust in Him and His goodness.”
Tanniehill’s book is available at Books A Million, Barnes and Noble, and his website, www.sancheztanniehill.com.