Ernie Haase and “Oh, What a Savior”

Like any genre, Southern Gospel has its myths and misconceptions. One of the most publicized of these is that, over the years, Ernie Haase keeps lowering the key in which he performs “Oh, What a Savior.”

I’ve heard this multiple times on enough different message boards that I finally decided it was worth a blog post. Here is a video of Haase singing the song within a few weeks of joining the Cathedrals.

This was in 1990; he was doing it in the key of G. Within about a year’s time, he moved it down to F-sharp. This is a half-step lower. (For those not particularly musically inclined, that’s the smallest distance you can change a key.) With a few exceptions, that’s the key he’s used ever since. Here’s a video of Haase doing the song in F-sharp in 1996.

Oddly enough, he performed the song with the Old Friends Quartet in F in 2001 (see here).

Perhaps that may have been due to other factors, such as Jake Hess’s or Wesley Pritchard’s range. But within a few years, he was again doing the song in F-sharp. Here’s a video of him doing the song with Signature Sound in F-sharp, ca. 2003.

Of course, that was on a professional video. Here’s a version of the song, captured at a regular concert, probably on a video-equipped digital camera.

Here’s a video of him doing the song in F-sharp in 2005.

In summary, after twenty-two years in professional Southern Gospel, with about eighteen of those in the national spotlight, he’s doing the song today only a half-step lower than when he started–a key he’s been using over the past sixteen or so years.

EDIT: I had a complaint from a good friend that the embedded videos took too long to download on dial-up.

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26 Letters to the Editor

Southern Gospel Journal welcomes letters to the editor. We will post the most thoughtful and insightful submissions. Ground rules: Don't attack or belittle groups or fellow posters, or advance heresies rejected by orthodox Christianity. Do keep comments positive, constructive, and on topic.
  1. Most of the time, a group will raise or lower a song by a half-step and even a whole-step, not because it’s too high or too low, but because they are trying to find THAT key that just fits them on a song. It has nothing to do with the ability of the singer, but rather it’s a tonal issue. One group may have a better blend in one key, and another group may have a better blend in a different key. My choral director in collage would do this all the time, trying to find that ‘sweet spot’. Ernie is a great singer and he keeps getting better. And even if Ernie has been lowering the key over the years, so what. (he hasn’t as you have very well said) A persons voice lowers with age, even tenors, and there is NOTHING that can be done about it.

  2. Eric, I think you captured pretty well what I was trying to say with my comments on the Old Friends rendition. Chances are, either the ranges of the second tenor and baritone fit the key of F better, or the group blend simply sounded better in that key. Good point.

  3. People have been raising and lowering keys for years. When Glen Payne originally sang “The Prodigal Son” in the studio in 1977 or so, it was recorded in E. Every single time I heard it after that, it was done in Eb.

  4. Daniel, you’ve got waaaaaay too much time on your hands! LOL!

  5. I think Youtube has the version Ernie sang on the Cathedrals Farewell video as well. Didn’t know if you might have wanted to include that one or not.

  6. Unfortunately, I didn’t come across that one. If I had, I would’ve included it.

  7. This arguement is usually started by the I love Brian Free, I hate Ernie camp. First they attacked their clothes and hair so its only natural when that didnt take away from their unprecidented sucess that these camps would try to attack his voice. Its weird that the more I hear on the boards that he is so unliked, he has won more awards than ANY tenor ever and the pack more seats than any group on the road. Ernie probably moved the keys to accomodate voiesin the group. If you dont think he can hit the high notes… listen to him on “This could be the dawning”. WOW!!!!

  8. Evan, I don’t love Brian and I don’t hate Ernie. I like Brian and don’t really care for Ernie. Your point that they attack Ernie’s voice because attacking his clothes didn’t work isn’t valid because people have been saying he lowered the key on “What A Savior” before he formed Signature Sound and started wearing the funny looking clothes. People have always questioned Ernie’s voice. Another untrue story is that Ernie got the job because after the Kurt Young incident at the Dove Awards, the Cathedrals were desperate for a tenor and since Ernie could somewhat sing and was dating George’s daughter, he was the guy. I’ve heard that many times, but that doesn’t make it true.

    I don’t think Ernie has won more awards than any tenor ever. He and Brian Free have both won 8 Singing News Fan Awards for favorite tenor, however Brian won favorite Male Singer in 1987 and favorite Young Artist in 1989 and 1991. Ernie won the Horizon award in 1991.

    The fact is that while Ernie is liked by many people, he is also disliked by many people. When you are disliked, people will criticize you more, especially when you are successful. I may not like Ernie that much, but I am impressed by the way he always handles the criticisms that come his way.

    Daniel, what key is “What A Savior” done on the EH&SS “Get Away Jordan” CD?

  9. Daniel, I found the answer to my own question. I searched for your review of “Get Away Jordan” and saw that key is F sharp.

  10. You beat me to posting here by a few seconds—I just went back to my CD, pulled out the (digital) keyboard, and double-checked. Yes, it’s F-sharp.

  11. I have always been a huge Cathedrals fan. One of my favorite songs ever sung by a Cathedral was Ernie’s “Oh, What a Savior.” I agree that he sang it better with the Cathedrals. The reason I believe that he sang it much better then was because (1) George was there to keep him in line and (2) he did not hold back. He pulled out all of the stops. He was not afraid to test his voice. It seems like in the last few years he has not tested his range. He has found a safe zone that he likes to sing it and stays within that zone.
    Ernie will always be one of the best tenors in Southern Gospel in my opinion. I just think he needs to get back to singing like he did when he was with the Cathedrals. With the Cathedrals, it seemed like he was singing more from the heart and not just for a show.

  12. Brandon is right. Ernie didn’t start dating Lisa until AFTER he joined the Cathedrals. He hadn’t even met her until AFTER he got the job.

    It’s no secret that Ernie is one of my favorites and that I like him personally. I also think highly of Brian Free. My main disagreement with a some Free fans is that Brian’s version of “Oh, What A Savior” is better simply because he sings it in a higher key and to me, that’s silly. I could sing “Under Control” in a higher key than Tim Riley, does that mean my rendition would be better?

    No, I didn’t type that last sentence with a straight face.

    Let’s put it this way: If I hear Ernie, I want “Oh What A Savior”…that’s his song. If I hear Brian, I want “For God So Loved”…that’s his song. It might be interesting hearing them do each other’s song as a one time thing, but I’ve never heard anybody do “Savior” better than Ernie and I’ve never heard anybody but Brian attempt “For God So Loved”, but I can’t imagine anybody doing it better.

  13. Who really cares what key Ernie sings in? That hymn with Ernie singing has touched so many hearts, mine included. I heard Ernie sing it for the first time 2 weeks after my husband died and God used it then to encourage me in my grief. God is using Ernie and Brian to further His kingdom. We really should not be bashing either singer because we do not agree with the key they sing in, the clothes they wear, etc. We should be praying for them and encouraging them. And yes, He is “Oh, What A Savior.”

  14. I thank God that He decided to grace us with beautiful voices to enjoy, but we – as “christians” – should not argue over such things. Instead, we should be Christ-like and the gospel of peace, so that lost souls can be redeemed. Isn’t thats what Jesus is all about? “For God so loved the world…” I don’t think Mr. Mount’s point was to start an argument, however, I have finally found the song/group that touched a child’s heart and made an awsome change in his life. I was that child.
    p.s. Shirley, I couldn’t agree with you more: “Oh, What A Savior!”

  15. “Instead, we should be Christ-like and the gospel of peace…” That should read: “…and preach the gospel of peace…”

  16. This is in response to Coomer’s comments. I am not saying these things just because I am huge fan of Ernie Haase. First of all, Ernie was not picked for the cathedrals because “he was dating george’s daughter” . That relationship came along after he joined the Cats. Also, I am happy to hear that you are impressed by the way that Ernie handles the criticism. Ernie says that he does not have time to defend the things that are said against him. I think we need to be careful and not to criticize someone to much and remember what this business is about, Praising God and spreading his word through song. I think sometimes we get a little carried away. If people really KNEW Ernie, they wouldn’t be saying the things against him. I am good friends with a VERY VERY close friend of Ernie’s and if people really knew that mans heart, they would not speak of him as they do. And by the way, Whatever note, E nails “O, What a Savior”, say what you want to, he has talent and is a great person!

  17. This is such a cool post Daniel. One of the first posts from this blog that I ever read, and already I was going, “I like this guy!” I’ve always been extremely picky about exact keys, so it really gets under my skin to see people who don’t know squat about music making ridiculous claims like this. Of course Ernie does it in F#. He’s *always* done it in F# (bar that first performance in G and one or two in F to accommodate other singers like you mentioned). And IMHOO (that would be my “highly opinionated opinion”), he *always* nails it. 😀

    • I’m glad this post had that effect!

  18. I think it’s fair to say that, after over 20 years singing live gospel 4-5 nights a week, Ernie ‘rests’ a little?

    Also, he is no longer the young tenor singing his socks off..

    He is now the ‘old man’ of HIS group. He does not seem to feel the need to ‘nail’ every tenor part of every song, nor does he need too.

    In many ways Ernie is a tenor version of George – and that is meant to be high praise!

    • Yeah. He didn’t even do “Oh What a Savior” when I saw them in concert last week!

      I would say he definitely has mellowed—a lot. With the Cats, he was singing his heart out, and it was a beauty to behold. He was giving it 120%. He blew the doors off the place.

      Now, he’s a gentler, but I think more polished tenor. With the Cats, he had more power, but he was a little bit squeaky, a little raw around the edges. I think he’s smoother now, more supple and relaxed. And even though he didn’t do “Oh What a Savior” that night, he did pull out “Walk With Me,” and he knocked it out of the park. Sure, he’s a little past his prime, but folks…he’s still got it. Plus, when they did “Amen,” he went even higher than usual on the “but he rose” climactic verse and in fact ended up hitting the same note he would have hit in “Oh What a Savior.”

      I think that if anything, Ernie Haase is “more Ernie” now than ever before—if that makes sense at all.

  19. Daniel,

    I’m trying to put up a revised list of the “Cats Tribute CDs” Song List, and WordPress seems to have eaten it, twice!

    Is it because I put numbers [1,2,3] before the Songs in the List?

    or is WordPress not an Ernie fan??

    • Oh, WordPress must not be an Ernie fan. But your dashing administrator bravely ventured into the jaws of the lion and played some Austins Bridge and Third Day music at 200 decibels until it changed its mind and decided Ernie was much to be preferred. The comments have since reappeared.

      (Most of this was tongue-in-cheek, but WordPress did indeed eat the comments.)

      • 😆 😆 You’re cracking me up Daniel!

      • I’m cracking you up? 😥 😥 Was it the loud decibels of that, umm, other music?

        OK, I turned the music down. Be whole once more. 🙂

      • Thank you. I’m afraid you’ll have to speak up, because I seem to have gone partially/mostly deaf in the interim. Fingers crossed it’ll come back…

      • Brilliant Daniel Den Meister!!

        You really cracking me up bro 🙂

        Now, where you hide the [recovered] revised list, so SoGoBro can polish it off up to 20…

        [And Dan won’t get the blame]