In between his jam-packed musical schedule, Hendersonville- born-and-raised Blake Ellege found the time to graduate from the International University of Santa Claus. Fulfilling a lifelong ambition — a dream, really — Ellege says he’s preparing to make his first annual “complete formal transformation” into jolly St. Nicholas for the 2018 holiday season.
“For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved Christmas,” Ellege says. He remembers a pivotal moment at his grandparents’ home when he was only four years old. “One day I walked up to my grandmother and said, ‘Nana, I want to dress up like Santa Claus.’ And she said, ‘You know what? Okay!’”
Ellege’s grandmother went to the store and purchased Blake a red onesie. “She brought it back to the house, and glued cotton balls around the wrist and ankle cuffs,” Ellege recalls. “We cut out the shape of a beard with a piece of poster board; we glued more cotton balls onto that and then tied a string on the very top corner on each side. My grandmother tied it around the top of my head. I put on a pair of my grandfather’s black house shoes. And then she put a Santa Claus hat on my head. I was a miniature Santa.”
Authentically costumed as his hero, Blake Ellege sat in front of the TV, watching VHS tapes of Miracle on 34th Street and Santa Claus: The Movie over and over and over. And his fixation with St. Nicholas was no mere young childhood phase. “I would dress up like Santa during the holidays each year up until I was eight or nine years old,” he says.
As Ellege got older — and especially as his musical career took off (see sidebar) — holidays were spent at home less often; his Santa Claus persona was set aside for a time. But his passion remained strong for the character who, when stripped of commercial trappings, embodies the selfless spirit of giving.
Once he was in college, Ellege found himself being told by classmates and friends, “You’re a really jolly fella.” He had begun — ever so gradually — to take on the appearance of the North Pole’s most celebrated resident. “[My hair] was getting a little thin on top, and I had grown a massive beard,” he says with a warm chuckle. “And I started to think, ‘I could possibly do this.’”
Still, one doesn’t simply don a Santa suit and become the real deal. So Ellege began formal training, earning degrees from the International University of Santa Claus in California and The Santa Claus Conservatory in Oregon. He also holds certifications from both the Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas and the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas. This season, Ellege will greet children at SAFE Interiors in Brevard, the benefit thrift store of the local organization that provides safety and support to victims of domestic and sexual violence.
But before deciding to take on official training, Ellege experienced a second life-changing moment. “During the 2014 holidays, I was walking through the Asheville Mall,” he recalls, full of emotion as he recounts the story. “I saw a child standing in line to visit Santa. But this child looked completely emotionless, totally defeated. I stood and watched, and it was amazing to me the way the lights went on in the child’s eyes upon seeing Santa.”
Other than sharing the Santa-suit story, Ellege prefers not to talk about his own childhood or family. But it’s clear that he has heartfelt empathy for children who are hurting. And he believes that for too many of them, “the one opportunity that brings them happiness is seeing Santa. And if I can be there in that capacity for a child, then that’s what makes a difference. That makes it worth it all to me.”
One creative endeavor — much less a single style of music — could never contain the energetic Ellege, an accomplished tenor singer and performer in multiple genres. “The more that I’m involved in music, the happier I am,” he says. Just a few of his ongoing projects:
Blake Ellege and the Country Resonators — tunes from the Golden Age of country and western; Faded Jade — Top 40 dance band playing hits in all popular genres;
The Karolina Katz — rockabilly from the 1950s and beyond; The Mojo Brothers Blues Band – classic blues from the 1950s-’80s; Santa and the Sleigh Boys — Christmas party hits; The Stardusters Jazz Quartet — jazz standards and selections from the Great American Songbook; Sun Studios: Live in Concert — a tribute to
the legendary Memphis recording studio.
Ellege also performs in duos with Aaron Price and Andrew Thelston, as part of a trio with Josh Carter and Tim Fisher, and as a solo artist singing in the classical idiom.
Blake Ellege will make Santa appearances at SAFE Interiors (283 North Broad St., Brevard, 828-884-2617) as a benefit for SAFE Inc. (safetransylvania.org), from 1-7pm December 17-23, $5 per child.
He’ll also appear at the event Breakfast with Santa at The Inn on Brevard on December 22 at 10:30am (call 828-884-2105 to make reservations).
Ellege’s local music appearances this month are with his band Santa and the Sleigh Boys on December 19 at the Block Off Biltmore in Asheville (theblockoffbiltmore.com) and on December 20 at The DFR Room (36 E. Main St., Brevard, dfrroom.net). Both shows start at 8pm.
He leads The Mojo Brothers Blues Band in I’ll Have a Blues Christmas on December 21 at 185 King St. in Brevard (8pm, 185kingst.com) and will appear at the event “Russ Wilson Presents: Have Yourself a Swingin’ Little Christmas” on December 23 at Isis Music Hall in Asheville.
With his Blake Ellege Quintet, he’ll lead Jazz Night at Southern Appalachian Brewing Company on December 26 (822 Locust St., 7pm, sabrewery.com). Closing out the year, he plays December 27 at 185 King St. in Brevard with The Thelston Fam Jam (8pm). For more information, see blakeellegemusic.com.