First singing for Billy Graham in 1944, George Beverly Shea carried the Gospel in song to every continent and every state in the Union. As the musical mainstay in Mr. Graham's Crusades, Bev Shea was often called "America's Beloved Gospel Singer." However, he could not 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. 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. Between Crusade, radio, and television dates in many countries, he sang hundreds of concerts and recorded more than 70 albums of sacred music.
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 incorporated 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. He also wrote "The Wonder of It All," "Sing Me A Song of Sharon's Rose," and "I Love Thy Presence, Lord."
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 1944, 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 one of the first of Mr. Graham's city-wide Crusades.
From the beginning of Mr. Graham's Crusade ministry, Mr. Shea and Cliff Barrows were the nucleus of the Crusade musical team. 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.
In addition to Crusades, Mr. Shea remained active with Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (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).