On Oct. 19, 2023, George Beverly Shea will be inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame at the Mooresville, North Carolina Performing Arts Center. Yet, the world renowned gospel singer and hymn composer might never have met evangelist, Billy Graham, and impacted millions around the world with his big bass voice, if it were not for some trials that his family was going through.
George Beverly “Bev” Shea’s father, Rev. Adam Joseph Shea, was a pastor serving at the Wesleyan Methodist church in Ontario, Canada. Bev would often sing in his father’s church choir. But there was a group of people unhappy with the pastor. The family prayed and knew they needed the Lord’s guidance and direction. They needed to tune into Jesus and trust where He was leading. Eventually, the family moved to Patterson, New Jersey.
It was there, Bev began taking singing lessons and auditioned for Broadway. It seemed the young man from Canada was on a trajectory towards stardom. But once again, Bev faced another turning point.
“My dad had trouble, in good conscience, with some of the lyrics,” said Ron Shea, George Beverly Shea’s son. “He felt it would be difficult for a pastor’s son to sing the songs they wanted him to sing.” Shea, knew from his father’s example how important it was to “tune” into what was most important – Jesus. He prayed about it and finally made the decision to walk away from a promising career.
But God had other plans.
Not too long after, Shea met a man from Chicago named Dr. Will H. Houghton. Dr. Houghton was president of the Moody Bible Institute and offered Shea a staff position that included singing on radio station, WMBI.
At the same time, a young student at Wheaton College named Billy Graham began listening to “Hymns from the Chapel.” Mr. Graham traveled on a train in from Wheaton College just to meet the singer. After that meeting, they had exchanged letters and talked on the phone. Eventually, in 1947, as Mr. Graham’s ministry was beginning to blossom, he would ask Bev Shea to be a part of his team as a Gospel singer.
In November 1947, George Beverly Shea sang at the unofficial launching of Billy Graham’s crusades in the old Armory in Charlotte, North Carolina. Together, Shea, along with Cliff Barrows and Billy Graham, formed the nucleus of a tight-knit team that would travel the globe spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ.
“My dad always wanted to point people to Jesus. He was committed to his faith. His faith was very important to him,” said Ron Shea. “He was a very humble, quiet man. But think about it. All of this might never have happened, if it wasn’t for the trials my family went through.”
Trials that turned into a testimony of God’s goodness and faithfulness.
Ron Shea has witnessed his father’s commitment to Christ throughout the years. “I’d always see my dad on his knees praying,” said Shea. “He was a big man, 6’2″. He wanted to honor the Lord – to be on his knees, seeking the Lord, always.”
Growing up, during the summers, Ron would travel with his dad and eventually serve alongside him at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. He has worked for the ministry for 42 years – first in Crusades, then donor ministries, and now is the senior ambassador at the Billy Graham Library, often having the opportunity to speak to groups, and share precious memories of his dad.
George Beverly Shea passed away on April 16, 2013, at the age of 104. “His last words to me were, ‘Ron, you were a good son.’” Ron shares he hopes his dad’s music will bring people closer to knowing Jesus – to tune into what’s really important in life. “That’s what my dad would have wanted.”
Ron will represent his dad as he’s inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame, and he knows his dad would be humbled by this great honor.
“He’d probably say thank you and defer to others and not make this about himself. He really wanted to point people to Christ and his vehicle was through music.”
Music that has transcended through the ages – helping people draw closer to the Lord.
If you visit the Billy Graham Library, you too can see a piece of history and the piano where George Beverly Shea composed the song, “I’d Rather Have Jesus,” inside The Journey of Faith tour. That song was the sole chord of everything Shea believed in and he wanted the world to know about Jesus.