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Billy Graham Crusade soloist George Beverly Shea dies at 104 following brief illness Print Email
Written by Christian Retailing Staff   
Tuesday, 30 April 2013 04:58 PM America/New_York

GeorgeBeverlySheaProlific songwriter composed ‘I’d Rather Have Jesus,’ recorded more than 70 albums and earned a GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award

Longtime Billy Graham Crusade soloist George Beverly Shea died Tuesday, April 16, in Montreat, N.C., following a brief illness. He was 104. 

“I first met Bev Shea while in Chicago when he was on Moody Radio,” Graham said. “As a young man starting my ministry, I asked Bev if he would join me. 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. My prayer for his wife, Karlene, and his children, Ron and Elaine, is that God will strengthen them during this time.” 

Shea, who first sang for Graham in 1943 on the Chicago radio hymn program, “Songs in the Night,” recorded more than 70 albums, including How Sweet the Sound: My All-Time Favorites and the DVD Then Sings My Soul (both Gaither Music Group/Capitol Christian Distribution). In addition to earning 10 GRAMMY nominations and winning once, in 1965, he was presented with a GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.

Shea was inducted into the Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame in 1978 and the Religious Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 1996. He was also inducted into the inaugural class of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists’ “Hall of Faith” in 2008. The soloist was the subject of 2009’s George Beverly Shea: Tell Me the Story by Paul Davis (Ambassador International).

Born in Winchester, Ontario, Canada, where his father was a Wesleyan Methodist minister, Shea first sang in public in the choir of his father’s church. At age 23, he composed one of his best-known solos, “I’d Rather Have Jesus.”

Even though Bev was 10 years older than my father, he never acted his age,” said Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham and president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. “He was absolute fun to be with. Bev was one of the most gracious and unassuming men I have known. He was always encouraging and supportive, a man of deep faith and strong commitment to Jesus Christ.” 

Focus on the Family founder and best-selling author James Dobson said he admired Shea “so much, not just because of his incredible voice, but because he loved Jesus Christ with all his heart.”

“Mr. Shea made an indelible mark on Christendom, leaving a tremendous spiritual and musical legacy,” Dobson said. “He was a man who loved and was thankful for his family.”

On one of his final recordings, Shea joined singer Guy Penrod on “Does Jesus Care?,” a duet featured on Penrod’s 2012 album, Hymns (Spring House Music Group/Capitol Christian Distribution). 

“Our world lost a wonderful hero in George Beverly Shea, a real genuine example to us men as to how to walk with grace and integrity through this life,” Penrod said. “He was truly a hero of mine and a great role model.”  

Steve Green said one of the highlights of his life was singing a duet with Shea at a Gaithers Praise Gathering event in Indianapolis.

“During my years as a guest for the Billy Graham crusades, I was greatly impressed with Bev’s humility, seen in his self-forgetfulness and other-centeredness,” 

Green said in a post on his Facebook page. “He will be missed.”

Shea is survived by his wife, Karlene, and two children from his first marriage, Ronald and Elaine. His first wife, Erma, died in 1976. A funeral service was scheduled for April 21 in Montreat.