George Beverly Shea, the longtime soloist with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame, along with five other musicians, on Thursday night.
Accepting with the award on his late father’s behalf, Ron Shea didn’t know exactly what his father’s reaction would have been, but he had a hunch.
“My father was a humble man,” Ron said, “but he would have been pleased to receive this award.”
Since 1994, this annual event honors and celebrates musicians, composers, and artists with ties to North Carolina who have made a significant and lasting impact in the music industry.
Mark Christian—worship leader for Will Graham’s ministry events—performed in honor of Bev Shea. With a piano by his side, Christian sang Bev Shea’s iconic hymn, “I’d Rather Have Jesus,” as well as “How Great Thou Art.” Deeply touched, the audience rose and sang along as the Gospel was shared.
“Music is a universal language,” explains Christian, “but not all music can change lives.”
George Beverly Shea would not only sing powerfully—with his trademark, impeccable diction—but he was sharing a story of God’s saving love.
Shea’s impact in the music industry far exceeds the Tar Heel State. As the featured soloist in Billy Graham’s worldwide crusade ministry, George Beverly Shea shared the Gospel in song to every state in America and every continent of the world through 417 Crusade events.
Referred to as “America’s Beloved Gospel singer,” he is best known for several hymns including “The Wonder of it All,” “Just As I Am,” and “How Great Thou Art.” Every hymn was a testimony to the saving power of Jesus Christ and Bev Shea’s deep faith in Him.
Early in his life, Bev Shea’s deeply moving bass-baritone voice caught the attention of many in the music industry. Ron explained that his father could have pursued a lucrative career in the commercial world. But instead, he made the commitment to use his voice for the glory of God.
“My dad wanted to use his music to point people to Christ,” said Ron.
Bev Shea first sang for Billy Graham in 1943 on the Chicago radio program, “Songs in the Night.” Billy Graham understood the power of music to touch the human heart to hear—and receive—the Gospel. When Mr. Graham formally asked Bev to join him in ministry, he wrote, “When you sing, you preach the Gospel! You sing a sermon!”
In 1947, Bev Shea was the soloist at the launch of Billy Graham’s Crusades in Charlotte, North Carolina. Together with song leader Cliff Barrows, this trio shared the Good News of Jesus Christ in song and proclamation around the globe for decades—a lifelong commitment and a true example of “a threefold cord … not quickly broken,” (Ecclesiastes 4:12, ESV). Through their ministry, more than 215 million people in 195 cities and territories heard the Gospel live, either in person or via satellite.
Visit the Billy Graham Library
Learn more about the role of music in Billy Graham’s ministry at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina. You can also see the piano where Bev Shea’s mother left the poem “I’d Rather Have Jesus” by Rhea Miller. Bev Shea saw the lyrics and composed the music. He sang the song in his father’s church that same morning in 1922.
Throughout his decade-long career, Bev Shea received numerous awards, including the Grammy’s prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011. Shea sang for three generations of Grahams. In addition to singing at Billy Graham Crusades, Shea sang for Franklin Graham Festivals (2008) and Will Graham’s Celebrations (2006, 2007).
George Beverly Shea passed away on April 16, 2013, at the age of 104. His tombstone, at The Billy Graham Library, is fittingly marked with Psalm 28:7: “With my song, I will praise Him.”