What Does Quality Southern Gospel Entertainment Look Like?

What Does Quality Southern Gospel Entertainment Look Like? July 2, 2012

Well, it turns out that Absolutely Gospel didn’t really mean anything that specific by “addressing rumors” in Part 2 of their Ernie Haase interview. Part of it was just his sharing the backstory behind “Any Other Man,” which came out of some righteous anger towards people spreading gossip about the group on forums and such. No specifics were given, and I actually don’t feel like specifics are needed. Some of us have seen such gossip ourselves, and it doesn’t deserve the oxygen of publicity.

But part of it was also a discussion of the group’s entertainment philosophy, and I wanted to spark a discussion based on that. Ernie re-hashed some of his usual talking-points on the topic, but I don’t think I’ve seen him do it quite this candidly before. As he’s done before, he addressed the danger of spiritual manipulation in a concert setting, and this time he specifically connected it with his philosophy of entertainment. He said that he’d rather be “blatant” about “just” entertaining someone than entertain someone under the guise of having a fake “spiritual moment” on the stage. This is something I’ve always respected him for.
He also revisited something he’s been saying for years in response to the accusation that Signature Sound is nothing but empty flash, which is that it’s never been his intention to give that impression, and it comes from a very sincere desire to simply bring one’s top game to the table when presenting this music. When he looks at the production quality of secular music, he wants to aim for that bar because he believes Southern Gospel deserves the best in production and presentation.
But it got me to thinking—they didn’t really get into a lot of specifics in the interview on exactly what that “top shelf” production looks like when you break it down into its component parts. Obviously one huge component is the live band. That’s something that definitely sets Signature Sound apart from the pack. They also have a light show and the occasional fog/dry ice/whatever you call it.
The thing is though, I’m not sure how much the quality of entertainment really rests on those things, with the possible exception of a live band. It seems like if you’re bringing quality singing and quality songs, with quality emceeing, you’re already presenting southern gospel well. I think the Booth Brothers are a great example of a group who consistently delivers top-notch entertainment with pretty much no “extra” stuff—they even get away without having a live band. Lights and fog are nice, but I wouldn’t say they always add something.
So I would say that Signature Sound are definitely great entertainers, but at the same time I think there’s more than one way to skin that cat. And since Southern Gospel IS different from pop or rock, one can only “borrow” so much. And frankly from a purely musical perspective, there’s a lot of poor quality junk out there in the secular arena too. It’s not like it’s automatically good just because it’s on American Idol (and I’m not even getting into issues like lyrical content).
What do you think?

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  • K. Payne

    I admit, that at the beginning, I was not all that impressed with SSQ. Some pretty chords and alot of dancing! Growing up in a singing family, my dad’s definition of quality singing was standing still and just sing. Some of that came from his days working for Stamps Baxter. That being said, times have changed. Everything, and everybody, is vying for your attention and your dollar. If a group is going to gain any publicity they have to fill a niche for those that are not quite in any catagory. SSQ has found a niche that involves not only older folks, but is gaining ground with younger kids who don’t like your grandmother’s gospel music. Hard to admit, but Ernie is growing on me.

  • I have a lot to say about Ernie Haase and Signature Sound but I’ll hold most of my thoughts. One thing for sure is that they are extremely talented, especially that Anderson. Their vocal abilities always leave me awe-stricken, in a good way. However their dancing and leaping always obstruct me from getting the message in song which is an essential ingredient in high quality SG presentation for me. High quality in most secular performances comprises of dance, among other things. If Haase wants to compare quality in SG and secular music, he should consider the fact that the two serve a different purpose to the end people. What may be considered great in SG may be considered bad in secular music or even in contemporary christian music.
    If Haase wouldn’t want to put on an on stage ‘Holy Ghost’ moment on stage, I see no reason of him putting on a show that may be a hindrance to the delivery of great gospel truths. A slap on a brother’s behind is not suitable for a gospel concert in any genre, especially SG. And they even put it on video for all to behold.
    A studio project of Signature Sound is what I prefer for it spares me the visual obstructions of this highly talented group of singers. Their performances dont seem to bother many of their fans as they keep on going to see them o’re and o’re, and thats a good thing that they are not obstructed.

  • Lydia

    So far in the Signature Sound concerts I’ve gone to it seems to me that they are quite willing to have some real “spiritual moments” on stage in the sense of showing vulnerability and singing things that reflect that vulnerability. This is good, and I think it tempers any feeling of too much goofing off, too much dancing, etc. If a concert were entirely the light stuff and the jokes and dancing, then I’d get tired of it and wish for something meatier. (I can _always_ do without the sombreros in “Mexico.”) But they really do to my eye convey the feeling of being 100% genuine and of wanting to bring people closer to Jesus Christ and wanting to serve him. And they still have serious songs that do that, such as “We Shall See Jesus” and the new cross song, I think it’s called “Love Carried the Cross.” Ernie’s performance of “Walk With Me” fits into this serious category as well.
    I’m not sure why Ernie connects the more entertaining stuff, the “flash,” with “high quality” per se, but perhaps it’s to some extent inevitable given that they must put a lot of work and energy into the dancing. I suppose when you decide that some aspect adds something to your performance and you work hard at it you’re going to defend it on the grounds of quality. And the “moves” do function to set them apart and to be in a sense impressive, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

  • Thanks for your comment. I am curious however—have you been to see the group within the past year or so? I think a lot of folks may be operating on a somewhat out-dated conception of what their live show looks like. I don’t think it would look like what you’re describing anymore.

  • I would attend a Signature Sound concert if I could. The only SG groups that make it all the way here in Africa are the Gaither Vocal Band and Ernie Haase and Signature Sound, but they all just visit South Africa, probably because of the huge SG fan base there. I would be a fool not to attend such a rare occasion when it comes around. Its not torture to see them dancing, its just one thing I could do without.
    That Doug Anderson is just amazing! He is by far my favourite singer in that group, the reason I still cant seem to stop listening to those guys. May God richly bless him and his buddies!

  • Glad to hear it. 🙂

  • That’s too bad… we here in the states tend to take that kind of thing for granted. But it’s cool to have a reader from Africa. 🙂
    Yes, Doug is amazing, and very sweet too.

  • Ah so you have met him in person. He seems to be a nice person and I’m sure he is. Next time you see him tell him he has a huge fan in Africa.
    On another note, its been long since Gaither brought his Homecoming Friends to Africa. Last time they came I was just a lad and didn’t know about the American Southern Gospel. When I look at those videos taped in South Africa it just makes me wish I could have been there. As for now, all I can say is praise God for the internet!

  • Yes, I’ve met him several times in person, and also he just has a sweet spirit that radiates from him whatever he does, including when he sings.
    Thank God for the Internet indeed! We have a lady from the Netherlands who comments around here, and she loves it that she can watch the Gaithers where she is even though they don’t come to her neck of the woods.

  • I have followed Ernie through his years with the Cathedrals & now with Signature Sound and with or without the extra stuff I have always found him to be the real thing. He has grown over the years & so has the group. I always get not only entertained but feel renewed in a spiritual way too when I hear them either at home or a concert. They are all great guys & walk the talk everyday. They have music for all ages & that is what Ernie is trying to do. You find all ages at their concerts having a good time.They also take time to get to know their fans & that means alot to me.

  • John Situmbeko

    First time I saw Signature Sound was on tv some four years ago. I was ready as usual to enjoy the Gaither Gospel Hour and when it started I was surprised to see that it was not the usual Homecoming group of artists but a male group, extremely energetic, jumping and dancing. I immediately recognised Ernie but not his friends. I just changed the channel, because I didn’t like what I saw. But after a while I started listening to the guys since they were featured artists on Homecoming videos and I realised they sounded pretty good, still their dancing bothered me and to this day it still does. I’ve watched their videos with my friends and they seem quite impressed with Signature Sound’s act. Its a classy way of performing music which is acceptable to many but not to me. Through their performances they have drawn a large following and, sad but true, they have lost potential fans, though I’m sure they have drawn many more than they have lost. I must admit that they have succeeded in keeping me interested in their songs, not because of the added dance but because of their fantastic vocal abilities, especially Doug Anderson. If they were to get rid of the dance, I’m sure it would not cost them a fan, but it would gain them one.

  • Well, I don’t think it’s nearly as distracting as it was five years ago. They’ve calmed the dance moves down a lot, in large part because of Ernie’s knees.

  • John Situmbeko

    Oh, thats good to know, sad however that Ernie is having knee problems. I hope and pray he gets better.

  • Brigitte

    I used to love EHSS but ever since Ryan and Tim left I haven’t quite gotten used to the new sound. Doug is one of my fav singers ever, and I too have met him in person… very sweet. 😉

  • Brigitte

    I agree with you, I don’t like the dancing either. But like YGG says, it has gotten better and when we went to one of their more recent concerts, it was very nice. I remember once they sang a song (wish I could remember which one it was) and it was an amazing moment. I think every one of the guys on stage was crying as were half of the audience. Ernie asked if anyone had a testimony to share and it was just a wonderful atmosphere! (does that usually happen at a EHSS concert? The testimonies from the audience I mean…)

  • I don’t think so. It sounds like that was a spontaneous moment. True spontaneity is something Ernie is always hoping for in a concert.

  • Riete

    Reading some of the comments here I have to agree with Yankeegospelgirl that some have quite an outdated view of the group. I’ve been to several of their concerts here in the Netherlands and yes, they definitely move around more than let’s say, the Gaither Vocal Band (I’ve seen them too here).
    On the other hand, there are enough still-standing quartets around to cater to the “older” public. EHSS attracts a younger audience who wouldn’t come to a SG concert otherwise (too boring for the YouTube and Twitter generation) and that’s a good thing.
    As a fifty-something I am young enough to love the sparkle and fun they bring in their performance.
    Their last concert was for me one of their most “Spirit-filled” concerts I’ve been to. It was fun, we laughed a lot, we sang a lot, we listened and we prayed together. Mr.Haase was more them a singer, he was a pastor that night, leading us closer to our Lord.
    Maybe people should just stop complaining about what happened or what they want to see happening with EHSS and just rejoice in the fact that a group of young men are so dedicated to our Lord and His Word to make it their life’s mission to bring it to the world through (high quality!) song and (fun) dance.
    God bless!

  • I’d have to agree—I just saw them in Shipshewana, and there were some really touching moments. If I can ever get that review written (sorry, folks, it IS on its way), I’ll share more.

  • Dilcia

    I am a Huge fan of Ernie Hase and EHSS! .. I love EH’s voice, his personality and mosty his heart for the Lord. Would go see them every week if I could. Concerts are Not Church – there should be some entertaining aspects. Other groups strive to entertain, whether it be corny jokes or scheduled spiritual moments. What EHSS does is Not stand still like statues, They move about and they sometimes move to the music… And I Love it. Groups dress in unison, rehearse to sing in unison and sometimes move in unison. I feel the spirit in EHSS concerts. I laugh with and at the guys. This lineup of EHSS is fabulous…. and I love what they are doing.