George Beverly Shea dies, leaves legacy as Gospel baritone
George Beverly Shea dies: Known as the soloist for the Billy Graham crusade, George Beverly Shea sang before some 200 million people.
George Beverly Shea, whose booming baritone voice echoed through stadiums, squares and souls during a decades-long career with evangelist Billy Graham, died Tuesday. He was 104.Skip to next paragraph
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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.
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"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 immigrant who became one of America's most-recognized gospel soloists, Shea himself 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 January 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 a Grammy for best gospel recording in 1965 for his album "Southland Favorites." At age 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.
Though his father was a Wesleyan minister, Shea recalled that he was a wandering teenager who needed direction. He had wavered several times from the gospel until the week his father put on a special effort to draw people to the faith.