For decades, gospel singer George Beverly Shea was a fixture at Billy Graham’s Crusades. Now, the gospel singer with the big booming voice has died at the age of 104, marking the end of an era for these popular gospel crusades. Billy Graham himself has had his share of age related health problems in recent years, slipping off the stage into a retirement as well. On religious broadcast stations like TBN, each week classic crusades by Billy Graham are broadcast.
It used to be a major event bringing a Billy Graham crusade to a city. I remember the great effort it took bringing a Billy Graham crusade to Portland, Oregon some years back, as Portland was considered to be one of the most unchurched cities in the country. And at the time the Portland Trailblazers were riding high as an NBA team, with a championship quality roster of players including forward Buck Williams. Buck Williams was a very popular player and asked if he could give a keystone testimonial at Billy Graham’s Portland crusade. His immense popularity helped to make this crusade a huge success, where many unchurched had to watch because they loved Buck Williams so much.
Even in those days, George Beverly Shea seemed a little aged. But, he had one of the longest careers ever in gospel music. Few artists live to be that old.
Shea was actually born in Ontario, Canada back in 1909, but later called North Carolina his home. Shea himself was actually a Methodist, although Billy Graham was a Baptist. However, the nondenominational nature of Billy Graham’s crusades brought many Christians together for these huge spiritual events that seemed to do a lot of good for cities. Many mayors with cities riddled with crime or drug problems would beg Billy Graham to do a crusade in their city because crime problems dropped as a result of these crusades as many people with crime, drug or alcohol problems would sometimes turn their lives over to Christ at these crusades.
Besides his performances with the Billy Graham crusades, Shea recorded on the order of nearly 500 solo vocal performances, and issued about 70 albums on the RCA and Word record labels. “How Great Thou Art” remains his most famous song to this day.
Shea was the star of several Worldwide Pictures releases(the film company owned by Billy Graham’s religious organization). And Shea had many TV appearances both with the crusade and as a guest on many religious shows. He also wrote several books.
To say that George Beverly Shea was an icon among gospel music performers would be a gross understatement. He was one of the greatest performers of all time with an awesome career. He now goes home to live with the Lord that he so loved.