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George Beverly Shea, Graham soloist, dies


CHARLOTTE, NC (BP) — George Beverly Shea, the longtime soloist for Billy Graham Crusades, died April 16 after a brief illness. He was 104.

George Beverly Shea

Shea and Graham were lifelong friends, for decades living only a mile apart from each other in Montreat, NC.

“For over 60 years we had the privilege of ministering together across the country and around the world,” Graham said.

A lengthy New York Times obituary said Graham wasn’t always the more famous of the two. When Graham asked him to sing at his preaching events in the 1940s, Shea already was a nationally known voice in Christian music, The Times said. Graham, at the time, was a “fledgling minister.”

By the time old age led to the winding down of their ministry together, Shea had “faithfully carried the Gospel in song to every continent and every state in the Union,” the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) said.

He was working as a staff announcer and singer at WMBI, the radio station of the Moody Bible Institute, in 1943 when Billy Graham, then a student at Wheaton College, walked in to express gratitude for Shea’s singing. Four years later, Shea and Graham led the first Billy Graham Crusade, in Charlotte, NC, The Times recounted.

Perhaps the most popular hymn Shea sang, The Times said, was “How Great Thou Art,” which he sang by popular demand on 108 consecutive nights at a crusade in New York City in 1957.

Shea received 10 Grammy nominations, won a Grammy Award in 1965, and was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Grammy organization in 2011. In 1978, he was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame, and in 1996 he became a member of the Religious Broadcasting Hall of Fame.

In 2008, Shea was part of the inaugural class of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists’ “Hall of Faith.”

Shea is survived by his wife Karlene and his children from his first marriage, Ronald and Elaine. He was preceded in death by his first wife, Erma, who died in 1976.