Baritone a stalwart of Graham's crusade
MONTREAT, N.C. — George Beverly Shea, whose booming baritone echoed through stadiums, squares and souls during a decades-long career with evangelist Billy Graham, died on Tuesday. He was 104.
Billy Graham Evangelistic Association spokesman Brent Rinehart said Shea passed away in Asheville after a brief illness.
Shea's rendition of “How Great Thou Art” came to define the faith of a Protestant generation that Graham helped bring to Jesus Christ. He performed live before an estimated 200 million people at crusades over the years — taking him from North Dakota to North Korea and beyond.
He joined Graham's crusade team in 1947 and stayed until Graham's declining health ended most of the evangelist's public appearances nearly 60 years later.
“As a young man starting my ministry, I asked Bev if he would join me,” Graham said then. “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.”
A Canadian emigrant who became one of America's most-recognized gospel soloists, Shea summed up his career with one of his inspirational trademarks: “The Wonder of It All.”
“I just thought it was such a privilege,” Shea said in a 2009 interview.
Despite several chances to perform on the secular stage, Shea largely stuck with gospel music. He recorded dozens of albums of sacred music and was nominated for 10 Grammys. He won in 1965 for his album “Southland Favorites.” At 88, he recorded his first country-and-western album.
Shea believed the simplicity of old hymns drew people to his music.
“It's the message of the lyrics, the test that hits the heart in a hurry and the melody that goes along with it and seems to all go together,” Shea said.
Born Feb. 1, 1909, in Ontario, Shea grew up singing around the dinner table and in his father's church choir.
Shea moved to New York City and trained with voice coaches, singing on radio stations WMCA and WHN.
So he was already well-known in Christian music circles when he met Graham. The lanky young man, a student at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill., came to the WMBI studio in Chicago in the early 1940s.
“I knew he was from the South. I could hear it in my ears,” Shea recalled. “He was what I call a Southern gentleman. He was just too complimentary of what he was hearing on the air.”
Their friendship began with that first handshake.
Shea always performed a peaceful hymn just before the famed evangelist preached his message and asked people to make Jesus their personal savior. Graham “really loves the quiet song before he speaks. Perhaps something that will point to what he's going to speak on,” Shea said.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Opposing defenses find success against Steelers by eschewing blitz
- Steelers looking for Spence to step up game at inside linebacker
- Penguins forward Downie becoming a hit with teammates
- Pittsburgh wins Gawker.com ugliest accent tourney n’at
- New tricks available for squirrel hunters
- Shale oil, gas finds put Mon Valley on path to renaissance, leaders say
- All signs positive for Pitt junior forward Johnson
- Legal titans prepared to tussle in Ferrante cyanide homicide trial
- Western Pennsylvania residents chill about forecasters’ spat
- Steelers’ Brown made good after leaving PSU in wake of sanctions
- Crash closes road in Dunbar