George Beverly Shea 1909-2013

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Thursday 18th April 2013

Billy Graham Crusade soloist George Beverly Shea dies aged 104

THE GOSPEL crooner George Beverly Shea, who for decades worked with the Rev Billy Graham evangelistic crusades, died in North Carolina on 16th April at the age of 104. Born on 1st February 1909 in Winchester, Ontario, Canada, Shea was one of eight children in a musical family. "We would have choir around the table," he told the Daily Oklahoman in 2003. His father, Adam J Shea, was pastor of a Wesleyan Methodist Church in Winchester. His mother, Maud, woke Bev, his two brothers and five sisters by singing gospel music to them in the morning. He began singing as a child in his father's Canadian Methodist church, and as a young man started work in the insurance business. He sang on the radio in Chicago where he eventually met the young evangelist Billy Graham.

Dr Graham said, "As a young man starting my ministry, I asked Bev if he would join me. He said yes and for over 60 years we had the privilege of ministering together across the country and around the world. Bev was one of the most humble, gracious men I have ever known and one of my closest friends. I loved him as a brother." By 1947 Shea was touring with the Billy Graham Crusades.

Over the years George recorded close to 100 albums of sacred songs and won a Grammy Award for Best Gospel Recording in 1965 for 'Southland Favorites', recorded with the Anita Kerr Singers. He was a member of the Gospel Music Hall of Fame and the Religious Broadcasting Hall of Fame. Shea also wrote and performed his own hymns, including his most popular, ''The Wonder Of It All". One of his signature songs was "I'd Rather Have Jesus", putting a poem by Rhea H Miller to Shea's melody. "I just sing a simple hymn," Shea said in a 2000 interview with the Tennessean, the Nashville-based newspaper. "Mine is a quieting voice. That is why I sing, to soften hearts with a quiet little song."

Shea appeared on stage with Graham before live audiences of an estimated 210 million in more than 185 countries and territories, The Times reported in 2003. By then, Shea was in his 90s and usually limited himself to one song, encouraged by Graham. "Billy still seems to want me around," Shea said in interviews. Shea received 10 Grammy nominations, winning one in 1965 and was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Grammy organization in 2011. In 2009 the biography George Beverly Shea: Tell Me The Story by Britain's Paul Davis was published. Shea is survived by his wife, Karlene, and two children from his first marriage, Ronald and Elaine, and lived in Montreat. His first wife, Erma, died in 1976. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.

Reader Comments

Posted by Colin Elliott in Northern Ireland @ 22:06 on Apr 18 2013

It was my great joy and privilege to record Mr Shea in 2010 for a duets album of old hymns by George Hamilton IV. At 101 his voice was sweet and mellow and was one of the highlights of the album. In 2011 I was in America for the album's release and I had the honour of being invited to Mr Shea's home. As we pulled up to his house, Mr Shea was sitting on his back porch. Knowing that I was from Northern Ireland, he broke into a rendition of 'Danny Boy' as I got out of the car. He was a lovely gentleman and we sang and talked together for a couple of hours. This was one of the most wonderful meetings of my life and something I will cherish forever. A great ambassador for Christ and a very humble man with a mighty talent. My prayers are with Karlene and Mr Shea's family. Until we meet again.

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