Since George Beverly Shea first sang for Billy Graham on the Chicago radio hymn program, “Songs in the Night,” in 1943, he carried the Gospel in song to every continent and every state in the Union. He was the recipient of ten Grammy nominations, two Grammy Awards (1965 & 2011) and was a member of the Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame (1978).
As the musical mainstay in Mr. Graham’s crusades, Bev Shea was often called “America’s Beloved Gospel Singer.” However, he cannot be claimed by any one country–a Canadian by birth, he is a favorite of people in many nations.
Born in Winchester, Ontario, February 1, 1909, where his father was a Wesleyan Methodist minister, Mr. Shea’s first public singing was in the choir of his father’s church. Later, he sang with the Houghton (N.Y.) College Glee Club.
Through the years, Mr. Shea was one of the busiest men on the Billy Graham Evangelistic Team. Between Crusade, radio, and television dates in many countries, he sung hundreds of concerts and recorded more than 70 albums of sacred music–including nine CDs.
Every hymn he sang was a testimony to the saving power of Jesus Christ and to Mr. Shea’s faith in Him. He was a noteworthy composer, and the songs he wrote incorporate the same message. He composed the music at age 23 to one of his best-known solos, “I’d Rather Have Jesus,” to words by Mrs. Rhea H. Miller. The poem had been left on the family piano by Mr. Shea’s mother, and after reading the words he sat at the piano and composed the tune. He also wrote “The Wonder of It All,” “Sing Me A Song of Sharon’s Rose,” and “I Love Thy Presence, Lord.”
Mr. Shea utilized all available media to share the “Good News” of Jesus Christ. From 1952, he was heard regularly on network radio, and in more recent years his bass-baritone voice was transmitted on weekly shortwave programs around the world.
Mr. Shea’s network radio singing started on “Club Time,” a program carried for more than eight years on ABC, the Armed Forces network, and many independent stations. When Billy Graham, then pastor of the Village Church in Western Springs, Ill., took over the “Songs in the Night” radio program on Chicago’s WCFL in 1943, he recalled hearing Mr. Shea’s radio singing and enlisted him to help with the broadcast.
That was the beginning of a long association between Mr. Graham and Mr. Shea. In 1947 Mr. Shea went to Graham’s hometown, Charlotte, N.C., to sing in the first of Mr. Graham’s city-wide Crusades.
The fledgling evangelistic team worked together in several other Crusades, and in 1949 the famous Los Angeles tent meetings catapulted Mr. Graham and his associates to national attention. From there, the team went on to share the Gospel on every continent.
Because of Mr. Shea’s weekly singing on “The Hour of Decision” radio broadcast for many years and his numerous personal appearances, his voice is recognized now in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, South America, and throughout North America.
Since the beginning of Mr. Graham’s Crusade ministry, Mr. Shea and Cliff Barrows were the nucleus of the crusade musical team. Mr. Barrows was choir director, platform emcee, and radio-television program director. They were joined in 1950 by pianist Tedd Smith, and through the years, organists Don Hustad and John Innes provided additional accompaniment.
Mr. Shea is noted for the simplicity of his faith and testimony. To him, compromise was unthinkable. All his life and work was aimed at telling “of the Christ who died for me.” A man of deep sympathies, he listened endlessly to the troubles of others but dismissed his own with a word and a smile.
For his significant contributions to Gospel music, he was inducted into the Religious Broadcasting Hall of Fame (NRB) in February 1996 and the Canadian Gospel Music Association presented him with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004. Along with Billy Graham and Cliff Barrows, Mr. Shea was inducted into The Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists’ “Hall of Faith” in 2008. As a special honor, in 1998 North Carolina Public Television produced Mr. Shea’s life story, “The Wonder of it All,” titled after one of his most popular gospel songs. In 2011, Mr. Shea was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award by The Recording Academy.
Mr. Shea and his wife, Karlene, made their home in North Carolina.
George Beverly Shea; February 1, 1909; Winchester, Ontario, Canada
April 16, 2013; Asheville, North Carolina
The Reverend A. J. Shea and Maude Whitney Shea (both deceased)
Erma Scharfe (deceased)
Ronald and Elaine
Annesley College, Ottawa, Ontario
1928-29: Houghton College, Houghton, New York
- 1929-38: Radio Broadcasting (singing on WMCA & WHN) as an avocation while working as a clerk in the headquarters office of Mutual of New York insurance company
- 1938-44: Announcer and staff soloist, WMBI, Chicago
- 1944-52: Soloist on ABC’s “Club Time”
- 1947-2013: Soloist, Billy Graham Team
- 1950-2013: Soloist on the “Hour of Decision”
- 1951-2013: Recording artist with RCA (1951-1977) and Word Records (1974-2013) – more than 70 Albums of hymns, including nine CDs
Awards & Honors
- 1956: Doctor of Fine Arts, Houghton College, Houghton, New York
- 1965: Grammy Award, sacred category, National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, for album
- “Southland Favorites” with Anita Kerr Singers; Ten nominations
- 1972: Doctor of Sacred Music, Trinity College, Deerfield, Illinois
- 1978: Elected to Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame, Nashville
- 1996: Elected to Religious Broadcasting Hall of Fame (NRB)
- 1998: North Carolina Public Television produced his life story, “The Wonder of it All”
- 1999: Inspirational Leadership Award, Salvation Army, Los Angeles, California
- 2004: Lifetime Achievement Award, Canadian Gospel Music Association
- 2008: Inducted into the “Hall of Faith,” The Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists
- 2009: Exceptional Service, Salvation Army, Winchester, Ontario, Canada
- 2009: Honoree Inductee, The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP)
- 2009: Great Commission Award, USA Salvation Army, USA Eastern Territory
- 2011: Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award, The Recording Academy
- 1968: “Then Sings My Soul,” autobiography, Fleming Revell Company
- 1972: “Songs That Lift the Heart,” about his favorite songs, Fleming Revell Company
- 1984: “Then Sings My Soul,” Film Musical/Documentary, World Wide Pictures
- 2004: “How Sweet the Sound,” Tyndale House Publishers