Montreat, North Carolina — George Beverly Shea, the renown baritone Gospel singer that regular accompanied Billy Graham on his worldwide evangelistic crusades, has passed into eternity. He was 104.
Shea died at his home in North Carolina on Tuesday, where he lived with his wife Karlene just a mile from Graham.
The legendary Gospel singer was born in 1909 in Ontario, Canada, and was the son of a Wesleyan minister. He attended Houghton College in New York for a time, and later moved to Chicago to take a job at a radio station run by Moody Bible Institute. Shea served as both an announcer and singer, and became beloved by listeners.
In 1943, a visitor stopped by to tell Shea how much he enjoyed his singing.
“One morning, there was a rap on my office door. I looked out and there was a tall young man with blond hair and we shook hands. He was 21 and I was 31,” Shea recalled. “It was Billy Graham, and he had traveled in from Wheaton College on a train just to say ‘hello.’ He said he listened to my morning hymn show called ‘Hymns From The Chapel.’ That’s how we first got acquainted.”
In 1947, Graham welcomed the Gospel singer as a part of his evangelistic crusades.
“They didn’t come to hear me,” he humbly told reporters in 2011. “They were a captive audience. They had to listen to me before Billy spoke.”
During this time, Shea penned some of his own hymns, including The Wonder of It All. He also wrote the music for I’d Rather Have Jesus, a song that has joined the classic hymns as a spiritual standard.
As he sang, he was also invited to appear at presidential prayer breakfasts for leaders such as Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson and George H.W. Bush. In 1978, he was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame, and in 1996, his name was added to the Religious Broadcasting Hall of Fame. He received a lifetime achievement award in 2011 at the age of 102.
Shea released over 70 albums, including The Lord is My Shepherd (1962), Hymns of Sunrise and Sunset (1964), The Old Rugged Cross (1978) and Echoes of My Soul (1998). He also penned several books, such as Then Sings My Soul (1968), Songs That Lift the Heart (1972) and How Sweet the Sound (2004).
Billy Graham released a statement this week upon receiving word of Shea’s passing.
“We had the privilege of ministering together across the country and around the world,” he wrote. “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. My prayer for his wife, Karlene, and his children, Ron and Elaine, is that God will strengthen them during this time.”
“This was God’s provision for a simple gospel singer,” Shea is quoted as once stating. “This has been the Lord’s doing.”