George Beverly Shea

George Beverly Shea. Bass-baritone, gospel singer, composer, born Winchester, near Ottawa, 1 Feb 1909, died Montreat, NC 16 April 2013; honorary DFA (Houghton College) 1956, honorary D Sacred MUS (Trinity, Deerfield, Ill) 1969. Raised in Ottawa and Houghton, NY (1917-21), Shea was taught to play the violin by his father, a Methodist minister, and the piano and organ by his mother. He began singing at religious meetings in the Ottawa Valley. Shea studied singing 1928-9 with Herman Baker at Houghton College, NY, and then, while a medical secretary 1929-38 in New York, had lessons with Emerson Williams and Manley Price Boone, and sang on radio stations WMCA and WHN. In Chicago he was a singer and announcer 1938-44 on WMBI and sang hymns 1943-52 on WCFL's "Songs of the Night" and "Club Time." In 1947 he became a soloist with Billy Graham's evangelical crusade and in 1950 joined his weekly radio broadcast "The Hour of Decision." He retained the position for more than 50 years, performing around the world at rallies and on radio and TV. Shea returned to Canada many times; notable performances included Toronto in 1995 and Ottawa in 1996.

As Recording Artist

Considered among the foremost exponents of gospel music - his "rumbling bass-baritone," wrote Bob Darden in 1984, is "the most widely recognized voice in Christian music" - Shea made more than 45 LPs for RCA Victor, and had other albums issued by Word and Reader's Digest. His Southland Favourites (RCA LSP-3440) won a Grammy Award for 'best gospel or other religious recording' in 1965. Shea composed the popular "I'd Rather Have Jesus" (1939, words by Rhea Miller), "Blue Galilee" (1947), and "I Will Praise Him" (1971), all published by Chancel Music. He also recorded song collections, including George Beverly Shea Favourites (1957), The Crusade Soloist (1963); Songs That Lift the Heart (F.H. Revell 1972, a collaboration with Fred Bauer); and more recently, Moments, Vol. 1 (1996); Echoes of My Soul (1998); A George Beverly Shea Christmas (2001); and How Sweet the Sound: My All-Time Favorites (2004). Other songs identified with Shea include "How Great Thou Art" and "It's No Secret What God Can Do."

His autobiography, Then Sings My Soul, written with Fred Bauer, was published in 1968 by F.H. Revell (Old Tappan, NJ). In 1978 Shea became a member of the Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame and in 1996 was inducted into the Religious Broadcasting Hall of Fame. In 1998, a TV biography, The Wonder of it All, was produced by the North Carolina Public Television Station. In 2011 the Grammy Awards honoured Shea with a lifetime achievement award.