About George Beverly Shea
The music of George Beverly Shea is characterized by the warmth and utter sincerity that one might expect from a man who often refers to his singing career as a "ministry through records." His deep, resonant voice is familiar the world over. Moreover, his enduring friendship with evangelist Billy Graham, with whom he has been associated for 60 years, has markedly enhanced the ministries of both men.
Throughout the course of a career that has encompassed numerous concert performances and more than 70 albums of sacred music, Mr. Shea has been a fixture at Billy Graham crusades in all 50 states and on every continent. "I've been listening to Bev Shea sing for more than 50 years," Mr. Graham once explained, "and I would still rather hear him sing than anyone else I know."
George Beverly Shea was born on February 1, 1909, in Winchester, Ontario, Canada. His father, A. J. Shea, was a Methodist minister, and young George first sang in public as part of a church choir. In 1928, he traveled to the United States to attend Houghton College in western New York State. Although he enjoyed his time at Houghton and sang in the glee club there, his family was unable to afford more than one year's tuition. George left college and got a job in New York working as a clerk in the medical department for Mutual Life Insurance of New York. During which time, while on duty, he met Lou Gehrig, Fred Alan and Frank Gannett among others.
By this time his parents had also moved, and his father had a new congregation in nearby Jersey City. George spent many hours singing and playing the organ in his father's church. During this period he also wrote the music to "I'd Rather Have Jesus," the most celebrated of several noteworthy Shea compositions that are indelibly linked with his name.
He wrote a letter to the noted American concert baritone John Charles Thomas (also the son of a Methodist minister) seeking advice on his musical pursuits. Thomas referred George to his vocal coach, Gino Monaco, with whom Shea also studied. George soon developed a regional reputation through radio appearances on stations WMCA and WHN, as well as his involvement in many outdoor Bible meetings.
In 1939, Mr. Shea received an offer to travel to Chicago to become a staff announcer and featured soloist at radio station WMBI. He eagerly accepted, despite the fact that the Depression made this a risky move. It was virtually unheard of for a gospel singer to attempt to support himself through music during this era.
The move to Chicago proved to be the turning point in his career. After several years, his magnificent voice came to the attention of Club Aluminum of Chicago, and in 1944 he began appearing on an ABC program entitled Club Time, with which he would remain until 1952. Of more lasting consequence were his appearances on Songs in the Night, a hymn program that also featured a sermonette by Billy Graham, who at that time was pastor of the Village Church in Western Springs, Illinois. This marked the beginning of a mutually rewarding association that continues to this day.
Mr. Shea sang at his first Billy Graham Crusade in 1947 and joined Mr. Graham's weekly Hour of Decision radio broadcast in 1950. The following year he embarked on another long and fruitful affiliation when he signed a recording contract with RCA Victor. As of this writing in 2005, Mr. Shea continues to perform with remarkable vigor at the age of 96. He has received many significant honors and awards, including 10 Grammy nominations and a Grammy Award in 1965 for the album Southland Favorites, which he recorded with the Anita Kerr Singers.
Mr. Shea was elected to the Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame in 1978, and was similarly recognized by the Religious Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 1996. He has a 1956 Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts from Houghton College, a 1972 Honorary Doctor of Sacred Music from Trinity University, and a 2004 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Canadian Gospel Music Association. He is also listed by the Guinness Book of Records for singing cumulatively to the most people - 220 million. His story has been chronicled in a 1968 autobiography, a 1998 television documentary, and, most recently, in How Sweet the Sound by George Beverly Shea, Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton, Illinois, 2004.
The life and work of this uniquely gifted artist are perhaps best summed up by the personal motto he takes from the 28th Psalm: "The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in Him, and I am helped; therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song I will praise him."
Adapted from "A George Beverly Shea Christmas" by Joseph F. Laredo