George Beverly Shea, the baritone singer known for his long-time association with Billy Graham, died Tuesday, April 16.
“George Beverly Shea has been one of the closest friends my wife, Ruth, and I have ever had,” said Billy Graham in a statement. “He, along with Cliff Barrows, was one of the first members of our evangelistic team. I’ve been listening to Bev Shea sing for more than 60 years, and I would still rather hear him sing than anyone else I know.”
Shea, 104, of Montreat, N.C., worked with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) for more than 50 years.
BP file photo
George Beverly Shea, 104, died April 16.
Shea first sang for Graham in 1943 on a Chicago radio program (“Songs in the Night”) and has carried the gospel in song to every continent and to every state in America.
He was nominated for a Grammy Award 10 times. He won a Grammy in 1965 and was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the organization in 2011.
“He has set an example and has been a role model of what a Christian ought to be,” Graham said. “His contribution to my ministry cannot be measured in human terms. Since our organization is like a family, we are all going to miss him as one of the spiritual leaders of our Association. We are looking forward to that glorious day when we will all be together again.”
Shea was also a member of the Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame and Religious Broadcasting Hall of Fame. He was among the inaugural class of inductees into the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists’s “Hall of Faith” in 2008.
“My heart goes out to the entire Shea family,” Graham said. “I am praying that God’s grace and strength will be more than sufficient for Karlene, his two children – Ron and Elaine – and grandchildren.”
Shea’s musical journey started when he was growing up in the choir at his father’s Wesleyan Methodist church. Born in Winchester, Ontario, Shea went on to record more than 70 albums of sacred music. At age 23 he composed the music to one of his best known solos, “I’d Rather Have Jesus.”
Attending both Annesley College (Ottawa, Ontario) and Houghton College (New York), Shea worked in radio broadcasting while employed as a clerk in the headquarters of Mutual of New York Insurance Company from 1929 to 1938. He became a staff soloist and announcer at WMBI in Chicago between 1938-1944. He met Billy Graham in 1943 after he took over a radio program called “Songs in the Night” at WCFL, also in Chicago. At the time Graham was pastor of Village Church in Western Springs, Ill. Graham had heard Shea sing on the other station and enlisted his help with the hymn program.
The first crusade they worked together was in Graham’s hometown of Charlotte in 1947.
Shea remained active with BGEA into his late 90s, singing at Franklin Graham Festivals in Charleston, S.C. (2008), and Knoxville, Tenn. (2008) and at Will Graham Celebrations in Paducah, Ky. (2007) and Gastonia, N.C. (2006).
“Even though Bev was 10 years older than my father, he never acted his age,” said Franklin Graham on billygraham.org. “He was absolute fun to be with. Bev was one of the most gracious and unassuming men I have known. He was always encouraging and supportive, a man of deep faith and strong commitment to Jesus Christ.”
Shea’s public funeral service will be held at Anderson Auditorium, 302 Lookout Road, Montreat, N.C., on Sunday, April 21 at 3 p.m.
The service will be open to the public, and doors will open at 1:45 p.m. Parking for the service will be available at various locations in Black Mountain, N.C. Signage and attendants will be present to direct traffic flow. Shuttle buses will bring guests to the funeral service and back to the lot after the service. Shuttle service will begin 1:30 p.m. and will end one hour after the conclusion.
Shea will be laid to rest on the grounds of the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte during a private ceremony on Monday, April 22. The Billy Graham Library and grounds will be closed to the public during this service and will again be open for visitors on Tuesday, April 23.
Shea is survived by his wife, Karlene, and his children from his first marriage, Ronald and Elaine. He was preceded in death by his first wife, Erma, who died in 1976.
To visit the George Beverly Shea memorial website, click here.