Gospel singer George Beverly Shea has died at the age of 104. Shea was a well-known gospel soloist who often sang during evangelist Billy Graham’s crusades.
The gospel singer passed away on Tuesday after a brief illness, though the sounds of his booming baritone voice will live on.
Shea was already well-known before he met Graham in the early 1940s. He joined the evangelist’s crusade team in 1947 and stayed with the preacher until Graham’s declining health prevented him from following through on many of his public appearances.
Their partnership lasted almost 60 years — more than half of Shea and Graham’s lives. Billy Graham spoke during his friend’s 100th birthday party in February 2009, saying that he wouldn’t have had his ministry if it weren’t for Shea. Graham added:
“I first met Bev Shea while in Chicago when he was on Moody Radio. 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.”
During his lifetime, George Beverly Shea received 10 Grammy nominations and one Grammy Award in 1965. Along with his distinctive baritone voice, Bev was also known for his rendition of the hymn “How Great Thou Art,” as well as his inspirational song “The Wonder of It All.”
Shea grew up singing in his father’s church in Winchester, Ontario. His first public singing experience was in the church’s choir. Along with the Billy Graham Crusade, radio, and television dates, Bev also sang at hundreds of concerts and recorded over 70 albums. He composed the music to one of his best-known solos, “I’d Rather Have Jesus,” at the age of 23.
Along with his Grammy accolades, Shea was presented a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Grammy organization in 2011. He was also a member of the Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame and was inducted into the Religious Broadcasting Hall of Fame in February 1996.
George Beverly Shea is survived by his second wife, Karlene, and his children from his first marriage, Ronald and Elaine. No information about funeral arrangements has been released.