Castle High School alumnus Ernie Haase (class of ’83) had just returned from a European tour — performing in Glasgow, Belfast, and London — and already was re-packing for a weekend performance in Gatlinburg, Tenn., when he took a break for a few minutes to talk with Evansville Living. That in itself is newsworthy, because slowing down is not something Haase does often.
He and his gospel music quartet, Ernie Haase & Signature Sound, are performing in Hungary, the Netherlands, Canada, and India this summer, as well as 12 states in the U.S. It’s shaping up to be the busiest and most successful year yet for the 47-year-old tenor who grew up in Newburgh, Ind., where his parents, Ray and Emma, still live.
Haase was drawn to Christianity and gospel music at a young age, and as a teenager loved listening to Ohio-based gospel quartet The Cathedrals. In fact, whenever the group performed anywhere near Newburgh, Haase was there to help unload their bus. The Cathedrals knew Haase could sing, and eventually invited him to join the band as tenor in 1990. Haase even went on to marry the daughter of original Cathedrals member George Younce. The Cathedrals retired in 1999, but Ernie Haase & Signature Sound have continued their legacy since 2003.
Haase also co-founded StowTown Records in 2011, and in April of this year the new label won two Gospel Music Association Dove Awards. Here, we talked with the music legend, who now resides in Stow, Ohio, about the road to stardom and his future in the business.
How did you fall in love with gospel music?
I wasn’t raised in a singing family, but there was always harmony in my house. Mom played the piano, and The Platters or Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons were always on. Something just resonated in me when I heard the quartet sound. I really believe God gives us a destiny, and that was mine.
Was it easy to take that love for music and turn it into a career?
I was involved in all the thespian activities at Castle High School — sang in the choir, took part in the plays, anything I could. One person in particular, Kathy Ewing, did so much for me. She was the choral and drama teacher at Castle. She was so cool, but I was so ADD at the time that she was always in my grill. Thank you, Kathy Ewing, for putting up with me. Plus, she took us to Vienna, Austria, for two weeks between my junior and senior years. I fell in love with Europe, and I knew I wanted music to be a big part of my life. And when God gives us a gift, it’s not just handed to us. I had to work my tail off. Hard work is something I learned from my dad. He’s the hardest working person I know.
You’re performing in India in August. You mean there’s a love for gospel music in India?
It is amazing. I get tons of emails from India. Our music has spiritual overtones, but it’s very entertaining no matter where you are. You’ll hear us play blues, jazz, and even a little Elvis Presley. What I’ve found is that people all over the world need a shot of hope. That’s what our group is able to bring. We see people who are hurting, they come to our shows, and they find something to lift their spirit. I’m blown away by that. The message of Christ still resonates.
You’ve put out 17 albums, four alone in 2011. Combined with the touring, that sounds like a ton of work.
It is. In the broader pop world, groups might only tour every four years. But the Beatles, in their early days, would put out two or three records a year. I really believe you have to strike when the iron is hot. This is our season. When I was young, I was a gym rat. You couldn’t get me out of the gym. These days, I’m like that in the studio. I love the whole process, and like I said, this is our time to make the most of it.
Do you consider yourself famous?
I do in this sense: If I do something stupid and let people down, will I let someone down outside my own family? Yes. There are people we don’t know who have listened to our music and our message, and they depend on us. I met a lady in London who had leukemia, and she had slept three straight days to muster the energy to come see us perform. We all have egos. We all sin. That’s the battle we all face. I think about people like her, knowing there are others out there I don’t know personally who depend on us.
What do you hope to be doing five years from now?
Still making great records and having an impact on people’s lives. I have a friend who has played Jean Valjean on Broadway in Les Miserables. Our idea is to produce the sacred sounds of Broadway, recording Broadway songs that have spiritual overtones. You take away the gospel from our quartet and you still have a quality group. If we can expose that quality to the masses, I’d be very pleased.
Ernie Haase & Signature Sound is coming to town on Dec. 14, performing a Christmas concert at Castle High School with the school’s choir. Check out Evansville Living’s upcoming November/December events Guide for further details.