Harshing, Part I

From the Ask Avery file, Edie wants to know:

Hey Mr Editor-guy,

I’m wondering why you think there are all these Ernie-haters out there? Is it jealousy? I mean, Ernie is just as nice and just as normal (which means he has his faults) as anybody else out there.

On the one hand, I don’t really get all the Ernie hating either. EHSSQ hasn’t done anything more or less outrageous than other groups –whether we’re speaking sartorially, choreographically, or aesthetically.

What they have done is succeed, or else done a really good job of playing the part of what the small-time gospel music world thinks big-time success looks like (for the record, I think it’s mainly the former). So, on the other hand, harshing on EH makes a lot of sense. Partly it may be professional and personal jealousy. But it’s probably a lot more complicated than that.

The ubiquitous cult of personality in gospel music has its roots in a conservative evangelical deference to authority and power figures. Iconic singers and stars aren’t icons just because we like their music. As with all entertainment figures, southern gospel stars represent at some level a projection of what audiences ideally imagine about themselves and want from the world or and their lives in it. In Christian music, the spiritual and religious dimension of the entertainment only intensifies the ties that bind fans to their favorites. The connection isn’t just personal; it’s eternal, metaphysical, potentially salvific.

In this context, EH’s rise to fame has to be understood as the symbolic success of a certain set of unconventional values and aspirations that challenge the status quo of southern gospel culture. For those people who came down more on the Scott Fowler/Roger Bennett side of the Ernie/Scott divide in the post-Cathedrals years, EHSSQ’s emergence as a hot ticket might well seem like a repudiation of whatever core values or conventional ideals people wanted to believe the Cathedrals represented. Thus all the suggestions that Ernie is somehow a usurper or a phony or worse because he married into the Younce family. The clear (and fairly preposterous) implication seems to be that George Younce was somehow forced by his daughter’s marriage to “side” with Ernie when what he really wanted to do was pass the torch to Scott and Roger. Royght.

EH and SSQ are arguably flashier, explicitly sexier, and unabashedly more ambitious than probably any other gospel act on the road today. Observe, dear readers, this trailer’s unsubtle hat-tips to Broadway, Vegas, and the “blockbuster” culture of mainstream big-budget roll-outs:

They aren’t the first to take this approach. But they are alone among the current crop of top-tier gospel artists in robustly succeeding thanks to a formula that pretty willfully dispenses with all but the most perfunctory or obligatory acts of self-deprecation or self-denials or “we’re just tryin’ to be a blessing” demurrals that southern gospel fans expect from groups that enjoy a great deal of success. Why do you think Bill Gaither plays up his stutter? Or George Younce made old-man jokes about Glen Payne (indeed, though Payne and Haase represent two very different on-stage personalities, I’ve often thought Payne, with his hard-driving style and non-nonsense “here’s your change who’s next” business style, was actually the truer ancestor to Haase’s take-no-prisoners approach to success, no matter how cloying Ernie is on stage). Look too quickly at that clip and you might miss that this is a southern gospel quartet. And that, I think, is a big part of the point.

In gospel music, it’s ok to succeed, but it’s dangerous to succeed in a way that sharpens the economic, social, or cultural differences between the fan and the performer. And so, while EHSSQ’s flashiness, their flamboyant fashionability, their eager appropriation of styles and approaches from American popular culture – while not bothering with any “reclaim the devil’s music for the Lord” apologetics – obviously appeals to a lot of people who like to live the gospel rock-star lifestyle vicariously through EHSSQ (a friend of mine who attended the Dream On taping said she saw alot of what looked like Mennonite women), it’s also an approach that runs the risk of rubbing a lot of other people the wrong way - people who want their music to reinforce their worldview and self-image, not provide an escape from it or glamorize other ways of religious living.

And so for these people, a group like EHSSQ has the potential to make them feel outclassed or shown up or played for the fool. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that (in fact it’s often easier to defend forms of pop culture as art if they push people out of their comfort zones), but it might help explain the Ernie-hating cottage industry in sg.

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  1. gc wrote:

    Joel Osteen on a larger scale, EHSSQ on a smaller scale. They are different, they are attractive(hard to admit that one), successful, blazing new trails with old thoughts and material in a 2008 format. JO learned his down home approach from his dad and Ernie has been present to watch success from Gaither,Younce in their heyday. Are they Biblical? Do they engage people to acknowledge Christ? They are both doing a great job of presenting the Gospel in today’s climate and I see professional jealousy as the core for almost every complaint. I have never purchased a piece of product from Osteen or EHSSQ but I admire from a distance the quality of their work and the success they have achieved.

  2. brad wrote:

    Osteen is a man that shys away from the truth.Preaches a watered down gospel!

  3. Jim2 wrote:

    Welcome back! Either I haven’t been paying attention, or you haven’t been commenting - just the other day I was wondering if you gave up on us.
    I don’t know how much there is to it, but I agree that there is a similarity between JO and EHSSQ - my impression of both is that there is more style than substance - it hits me harder with Joel Osteen, but that probably comes from my upbringing and an awareness that teachers are held to a higher standard.

    I met Ernie once, right about the time the Cathedrals were winding up and he seemed like a genuinely nice guy - so maybe Doug is right, it comes down to flamboyant vs staid, and I’m firmly in the staid camp

  4. Leebob wrote:

    The arguments on Osteen are Biblically based (I thought Stanley was America’s pastor; when did this change and who made it). Watching his interviews with reporters he backs away from any stance whatsoever on salvation through Christ alone. I get the feeling he would be comfortable on the set of Oprah.

    The arguments against EHSS are personal tastes for the most part. I have not seen any argument against EHSS that are substantive. For the most part they have been made by people from a distance. When the attacks on their style didn’t work then the personal attacks started. This is typical of politics and personally I feel that it is counterproductive to the ultimate goal of all that are involved with and care for SG.

  5. thom wrote:

    avery - i think you summed up this whole ehssq debate as well as anyone ever has.

    commercial success speaks for itself. like it or not, if it sells, then someone must like it, huh?

    if i may opine - I certainly don’t begrudge their success. They (whoever ‘they’ are) figured out a marketing formula and slick packaging to set the group apart from your average run of the mill gospel quartet. more power to them. You can argue talent, substance, etc, but the design of the packaging is working for them.

    I remember as a boy when the Oaks “went hippy” with their long hair and flashy 1970’s clothes. They were controversial and eventually crossed over to country and in the eyes of most SG fans “abandoned their fans” by not conforming to the conservative dress code of groups like the Inspos or the Fla Boys. I remember hearing the adults calling the Oaks “blasphemers” because of their long hair and “worldly” clothing - folks said “they have crossed the line” and “Sided with the devil”.

    Scripture were thrown around like “it’s a shame for a man to have long hair” and “a man should not dress like a woman” etc. I remember wondering if Jesus wore a black straight cut suit, white cotton shirt, skinny black tie, and crew cut hair like those Bible thumpers who were criticizing the Oaks.

    To me all the controversy just made the Oaks more fascinating. I thought they were “cool” and just the fact that they were different made me want to hear more of them.

    I believe the bashing of EHSSQ is not dissimilar and actually draws people to them.

    Hmm. was that part of the design?

    AND - the rest of you posters - PLEEZ don’t make this thread turn into a Joel Osteen bashing. Stay on topic - Southern Gospel Music.


  6. Elisabeth wrote:

    I don’t hate Ernie at all. In fact, I really do like their sound a lot of times. I just happen to think he’s cheesy. And I have a feeling a lot of other people do, too. But I have to admit, cheesiness sells. How else has most of Southern Gospel gotten where it is today? Ernie’s just a different kind of cheese.

    Although, I must admit that some of the “cheese” can freak me out at times…Rockette moves?! From almost- to fully-there-middle-aged men?! ick…

  7. Southern Gospel Fan wrote:

    4 of the most Dedicated youn men it has ever been my privelege to meet.
    Are they Godly young Men you bettcha.
    If you aren’t working for the Glory of God the Devil doesn’t bother you.
    Go EHSSQ to God be the Glory.
    Any group that doesn’t honor God and strive to stay in his will does not last. God takes care of it.

    I have no fear that EHSSQ are not in God’s will.
    what is wrong with Mennoite folks being at a concert?

  8. Scott Holmann wrote:

    In every aspect of life (National Politics/Wall Street Business/Church Affairs/Gospel Music/etc) ……. there are the doers and then there are the talkers.

    Kinda like a NFL game: 15 guys on the field, badly in need of a rest and 55,000 guys in the stands, badly in need of exercise !!! Couch Quarterbacks are very plentiful and it appears that EHSSQ brings them out in droves. Ernie and the guys are doin’ it, so cheer them on, cauz your couch quarterbacking will have absolutely NO effect on the outcome when the final bell rings.

    Enjoy the music and trip to Heaven !! Lift someone’s load everytime you can ….. say every kind word you can ….. smell the roses …… smile at a child ….. life is well worth the living !!

    You are leaving a legacy behind …… I wonder what your children will have to say about you when they stand by your casket? That thought might stop some of your useless couch quarterbacking when you realize that you will have no say (at all) at the Great Judgement …… you’ve already said it all down here when you had the opportunity.

  9. Nattex wrote:

    Below is an email message I sent to avery back in February after seeing EHSSQ in concert. What I saw that night while watching my 15 year old son and my 72 year old dad still holds true today.

    We saw Ernie Haase and Signature Sound this past Saturday night in Lubbock, Texas. They sang at 1st Baptist Church. The church has a large sanctuary with a balcony. It was nearly full to capacity. By and large, it was an exceptional concert with both the group, as usual, and the crowd displaying a lot of energy and emotion. There were some glitches with the sound system, mainly feedback at inopportune times. But these were minimal and did not distract from the overall performance. My family and I have seen EHSSQ several times, primarily in Gaither concerts, but we also saw them in 2004 when they were at the Georgia Mountain Auditorium in Gainesville, GA.

    My primary reason in writing this to you is to say that I believe that southern gospel music as a music genre still has the ability to reach across the generations and bring people of all ages and backgrounds to their feet by entertaining them and ministering to them. I read your blog quite often and like to see what others are thinking about the music I grew up listening to and loving. It is always interesting to see all of the opinions. I must confess that I have ulterior motives for doing this. My 15 year old son has loved southern gospel, quartets in particular, since he was old enough to recognize music and sing along to it. His favorite tape when he was 2 was King’s Gold III, the one taped at Myrtle Beach. It took us several years, but we finally wore it out because he had to hear it everytime we went somewhere in the car. An aside to that is I just purchased a brand new copy of that recording online recently. He was thrilled to get it. He has taught himself to play the bass guitar and drums by listening to recordings of the Kingsmen, Gold City, the Hoppers, the Happy Goodmans, etc, etc. You get the picture.

    As he sat there, listening and singing along to SSQ, I marveled that next to him was my dad, who at nearly 73, was having a blast also. These two, who do not know about all the things discussed on this website, were enjoying and marveling at the talent of the group on the stage. This music and those who make it can still thrill the soul and put a smile on a face that is weary from the cares of life. I will still continue to read the blog and enjoy the comments of all those who write in. But I will also remember that whether we agree on every group or every song, there is still much to this kind of music that deserves to be celebrated and enjoyed each day.

  10. bbq wrote:

    Doug….I think this is one of your finest pieces yet. This is exactly what first drew me to this blog. I think you have hit the nail on the head with this post. EXCELLENT!

  11. matt wrote:

    Other groups, such as the Cathedrals, enjoyed great success. Does that mean they experienced “Cat-bashing” to the same or lesser degree as EHSSQ? Did not the Cats stretch the SG limits musically several times, if not by dress or dance moves?? I can’t recall much public Cat-bashing……

    By the way, what’s with the mennonite women reference? I am a Mennonite myself, but I’m not a woman. So far, I’ve attended alot of concerts. Hope that’s ok with you all :-)

  12. Daniel J. Mount wrote:

    #11 - I think people discuss–and sometimes criticize–what’s different. EHSS is different, Mennonites dress different. That’s all the excuse they (think they) need.

  13. matt wrote:

    Some Mennonites do dress differently. In the denomination I belong to nobody dresses any different from anybody in the ’secular’ world. Even our church has taken the word Mennonite off the sign. You’d have to look pretty hard to know it was a Mennonite church.

  14. Kyle wrote:

    If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it….

  15. Not Ernie Haase wrote:

    I’m pretty certain that my dad would not let EHSS perform in our church. I think the dance moves and charismatic style would be a bit much for our country church. However, I think the intense criticism they receive comes from the fact that they’re on top right now. Anyone who’s on top might as well understand that the crosshairs are on their back.

  16. Leebob wrote:

    Ahhh the lonely cry of the top dog….

  17. Joe wrote:

    Actually, “explicitly sexier” should not be, in my mind, a redeeming quality that would endear a SGM fan to any group, or the music it sings.

    And if any group, as Doug so eloquently writes of this one, seeks to “tip its hat to Broadway, Vegas, and the “blockbuster” culture of mainstream big-budget roll-outs”, how, exactly, does this advance the gospel of a Savior, Who instructed us to be vastly different than the world we are attempting to reach for Him?

  18. gc wrote:

    My post was not a bash at Osteen. God is using him in a way that is helping people. Style is not as important to me as his success rate at introducing people to Christ.

  19. FW wrote:

    How come Ernie’s voice always comes through the speakers perfectly, no matter whether his mouth is near the mic, or far away…doesn’t anyone else think this is strange?!?!?! I noticed it at NQC some years back, and it hasn’t changed. How can he hold the mic over a foot away from his mouth, yet the volume doesn’t change at all? You try doing that and see what happens. Also, watch his lips carefully. It almost seems like he’s lipsynching. I wonder…

  20. mp3guy wrote:

    It’s not about the “bait”, it’s all about the “hook”. As Paul stated - “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some”.

    And before I hear it all back - yes, you can take it too far, so save your breath, I’m only making an observation, not trying to make some grand “chiseled in stone” statement.

  21. Joe wrote:


    I promise- I will not expend alot of breath on this one. You and I both know, deep down, that the apostle Paul never meant, in the words of his you quoted, that it would be appropriate to use “sex to sell” the gospel.

    That is NOT what he meant. He was the one also, who plainly said “do not let the world squeeze you into its mold” (Romans 12:1- JB Phillips translation).

    He as well said “But clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and forget about satisfying your sinful self.” (Rom. 13:14 NCV)

    There is a line. Many feel that this crosses that line. I was only using Doug’s own words, apparently stated very honestly, to make that point.

  22. BUICK wrote:

    #8 - Just to clarify, if it is 15 people on the field, it is rugby. American football has 11 as does World Cup football (soccer).

    EHSSQ are to SG in the early-21st Century what Hovie and the Statesmen were in the mid-20th Century: edgy, controversial, showmen, etc. I’ve got no problem with that. I don’t care about Ernie’s personality (he doesn’t rub my fur the wrong way like JD used to). My beef with EH is that to me, his voice seems shrill. But I also recognize that is a matter of personal taste and preference. I didn’t care for Rosie Rozell or Rick Strickland but I always liked Bobby Clark and Bill Shaw. I can’t necessarily quantify and justify that…I just like some voices and don’t care too much for others. Merely a matter of personal preference. I enjoy the SSQ and I endure the EH part of it.

    I suspect some of the negative feeling toward EH is the notion that he didn’t earn his place in SG music. Some (erroneously) believe that George hired his son-in-law to sing tenor. In fact, EH married the boss’s daughter because he was already singing for the Cats before he dated and married. Some believe that he didn’t earn the exposure that EHSSQ has enjoyed, BG gave it to them as a favor to George.

    The fact is, EH may have got some breaks along the way but he also appears to have made the most of them. And that counts for something…even if I don’t care for his voice.

  23. bbq wrote:

    Joe #17….consider this…

    is it possible that by using one of those broadway tunes EHSSQ might just capture the ear of someone who would not normally listen to their more gospel music style tunes? Then, is it possible that EHSSQ might then go from the B-way tune over to the more S-Gospel style tune that has the message of Christ and God in it and keep that person’s attention, there by introducing that person to a genre of music, and more importantly a God, that the person might not otherwise have listened to without first being brought in by the unique dance moves orchestrated with the B-way tune? Is it not plausible that EH gets it? That in order to connect people to God he must first connect with them in a way that they are familiar with?

    Just a thought.

    Maybe EH and SSQ are smarter than you give them credit for being?

  24. Wade wrote:

    Well Said BBQ… I am sure J & J and who ever else will disagree some way. Quote some bible verses or use Avery’s words (thats the new one)… which is taken out of context to make him feel better. Ignoring the 5 other paragraphs that are positive. God Love his Heart.

    I wonder what Harry thinks about this??? LoL;-))

    Joe or JW (their rants are the same) said how watering down the gospel drove ppl away but they still have not explained how Joel has the Biggest church in the USA??? Surprisingly they have not bashed him badly yet.

    But give them time, they are still trying to find out about Phil crosses marriages. If Kirk’s still not gay or if it is too sexual to lick your fingers @ Tony Gore’s BBQ Palace.

    Thank JC The Lord God Above we will not have to Stand in Judgment before them when it matters!!

    But I love ya and pray for ya every day.

  25. dortie wrote:

    No matter what any of us thinks about EH and SSQ they sure do get a lot of free press on this site. So I guess they are doing something right.

  26. brad wrote:

    I really dont understand why people dislike EHSS so much.I enjoy their music. I dont think theyre the best quartet but their not terrible.Probally most of the people that condemn them cant sing anyway.

  27. reeksofjealousy wrote:

    #19…Ernie has always had one of the hottest mics in SGM. Even back when he was with the Cathedrals, he always liked his mic hot enough that he didn’t have to push so hard every night. When they used to sing “Wedding Music” and they got to the ending, he’d start that ending with his head turned at least 90 degrees away from the mic, with his mic near his waist and could still be heard plain as day. Then he’d bring it in and just blow people away. It’s called working the mic. He has always done it. Now, don’t get me wrong, some stacks are being used. But if you ever see EHSSQ live, you’ll notice his live voice is clearly coming through. And especially on his solo parts. There is no lip-synching going on.

    If you are basing this on the videos, then sure, there are parts where the overdubs may not match up exactly with the mouth. But that doesn’t mean he is lip-synching. It just means they wanted to fix that part during the editing process. Or maybe they had some technical glitches with the vocals that needed to be fixed.

    EHSSQ are perfectionist and believe in working hard. That is a lost quality in today’s world, not just SG music. And Ernie is a planner. Sure, he has a sounding board in Bill Gaither and when George was still alive, but in the end, Ernie is a man who makes his own decisions for his group. Just ask him what he has planned for 2010 or 2011. He already is thinking about it. Name me one other SG group who is thinking that far into the future. Most are just trying to figure out where they are goig to stop for lunch on their way to Podunk, NC this afternoon.

  28. Phil Boles wrote:

    #19,#27…..Its true that Ernie has one of the hottest mics in SG! I seen their mixing board at a concert ( since i run sound in church i have a basic understanding of how the things work…) and i noticed that “Es” Mic was turned up quite loud in comparison to others….and lets not forget that Ernie has a very powerful voice…maybe not of a Phelps standard but still very powerful….i have read where he filled an auditorium with his own voice without a microphone due to a power failure!

    EHSS=Trailblazers……exactly the same thing as was done years ago with the Statesmen, Imperials etc etc…

    Ernie’s’ unofficial motto is, “Different Hair but the Same Message” :)

  29. Irishlad wrote:

    #17.Joe, to quote,’how exactly does this advance the Gospel of the Saviour’. Just exactly the way JD did when he opened for Elvis after the Sweets messed up.Do you think they(SI) opened with Gospel,no,but the Stamps did and i’m quite sure at least one person paid heed. And one is all you need.

  30. Harry Peters wrote:

    NOT ERNIE HAASE (15) I don’t know about cross hairs on Ernie’s back, but I sure wouldn’t want his cross hairs on mine.

    JOE (17) You are dead RIGHT. I wouldn’t expect many people on this site to agree with us, but we are called to be a “peculiair” people and we are not to be “conformed to this world,” but “TRANSFORMED.” I’m so glad my wife, Fonda, pointed out your post to me. I would have missed seeing you ask the question that really is the one that should be asked and answered.

    I wish you all would lighten up on Joel a little. He seems like a sweet young man and he doesn’t have that sinister, nefarious air that some have. He is leading a flock and allowing God to heal a hurting world through his preaching.

    BBQ (23) I appreciate what you said about Ernie “getting it.” I don’t know if he gets it or not, I always imagined he was more of a giver than a receiver.

    Lastly, WADE (24) Glad you wanted old Harry to weigh in. You know that I love you and BBQ both…but don’t be too quick to think that people like JOE (17) and I are being too judgmental. I don’t remember if it is in Proverbs or Ecclesiastes that says “you can’t judge a book by it’s cover.”

    Anyway, old Harry Peters just wanted to say that he loves the Lord and loves all of you…even those of you who want to come down HARD on me. God is a God of love and mercy, but He/She’s not going to be mocked by people trying to make a fortune while claiming to be working for the Lord…and all the while they are in my mind doing the devil’s bidding with their “explicitly sexier” garbage. I never thought I’d be living in the last days and ever hear anything about southern gospel music being “sexy.”

    Lord forgive us all…for the things we’ve done and the things we’ve left undone.

  31. Dick Hardin wrote:

    I think #29 (John Doe) is really Harry Peters.

  32. NOT AVERY wrote:

    Avery sensors anybody that calls sin what it is. What are you afraid of? The TRUTH?


    Maybe the men want to bash Ernie and SSQ but don’t ask a woman or your wife what she thinks of them if you want her to tell you the truth, anyway. The “S’s” in SSQ are probably not for “explicitly sexier,” but they sure could be. That wet dreams video makes me want to come to chicago for sure. Does anyone know if Ernie got Kirk’s old bed in the bus when he took over the tenor for the cathedrals?

  34. HML wrote:

    It’s nice to see something well-thought out on the topic of EHSS. Good post. :)

  35. Nonsgfan wrote:

    I jusst think eeernie issss dreeamy!!

    Ps, I just said that in a very girly, feminine voice.

  36. Harry Peters wrote:

    Nonsgfan (35) I couldn’t help but notice the lisp. You’ve got him pegged!

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