George Beverly (Bev) Shea, longtime Crusade soloist and friend of Billy Graham, is celebrating his 104th birthday (Friday, February 1, 2013) with his wife Karlene, family and friends at his home in Montreat, North Carolina, and is also being honored at The Billy Graham Library with a special exhibit.
Called "How Sweet the Sound: A Tribute to George Beverly Shea" the exhibit will celebrate "America's Beloved Gospel Singer" and the impact he has had around the world.
"George Beverly Shea, an original member of the Billy Graham Team, has played such a vital role in this ministry," said Tom Phillips, vice president of The Billy Graham Library. "We are excited to unveil many items to the public for the first time, to honor the wonderful life of Mr. Shea, yes, but more importantly to honor God to whom Mr. Shea gives all the glory."
The tribute will include pieces of memorabilia from Shea's early career in Chicago to his many years spent as an integral part of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Highlights of the display include: the actual piano on which he composed the music to the popular hymn "I'd Rather Have Jesus;" his Lifetime Achievement Award from the Grammy association and the suit he wore for the ceremony; a Western Electric Model 633A "Salt Shaker" microphone that Mr. Shea used at WMBI in Chicago in the early 1940s; and more.
A world-class baritone, Shea has sung in front of more than 210 million people at the Crusades, a fact that has been acknowledged in the Guinness Book of Records.
"They sent me a certificate that my wife, Karlene, framed and put on the wall here at my home," he said in an interview I did with him some time back for my Front Page Radio show. "The truth is that they didn't come to hear me; they came to hear Billy Graham."
I interjected by saying, "Yes, but they came to hear you sing as well!"
In his autobiography Just As I Am, Billy Graham had this to say about George Beverly Shea: "I have sometimes said that I would feel lost getting up to preach if Bev were not there to prepare the way through an appropriate song. But I will always be grateful not only for his musical contributions to our Crusades but also for his warm spirit and his personal friendship over the years.
A world-class baritone, Shea has recorded more than 70 albums, and among other honors and achievements, was the recipient of ten Grammy nominations, a Grammy Award in 1965, and a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Grammy organization in 2011.
The Sheas make their home in Montreat, North Carolina, less than a mile away from the Graham home. On the opening day of the exhibit, Shea will celebrate his 104th birthday. Guests to the exhibit will have the opportunity to write a personal birthday greeting to Mr. Shea during the opening week of it.
The George Beverly Shea tribute exhibit runs from Feb. 1 through March 30 and is free to the public. For more information on the Library and upcoming events, or to schedule a group tour, please visit www.billygrahamlibrary.org.
Although Bev Shea is known as "America's Beloved Gospel Singer," he told me in the interview that he was actually born in Canada.
"Yes, I was born in Canada; it was in a town called Winchester, Ontario, which is 35 miles from Ottawa, the capital city," Shea admitted. "My dad was a preacher there for 20 years and then he went to Ottawa for 10 years. After that he moved down to the New York area. I followed him there during my 20s.
"His final pastorate was in Syracuse, New York and he decided he'd better go to Heaven."
Bev then spoke about his time at Houghton College in Houghton, New York.
"The college is near Buffalo and Rochester and is a fine college," he said.
He also revealed that it was his mother who first spotted his musical talent.
"I'm in the middle of eight children and my mother noticed that I couldn't stay away from the piano," he said. "When I was very young, before the others came along, I was banging on the piano and so she took time to teach me some chords, like people do on a guitar these days. I took lessons for a while, but I found out that I would rather just develop different chords in all the different keys and play by ear. I don't do it for people today, but I still play like this for my wife and for my own enjoyment morning and night."
I then asked Mr. Shea how he first met Billy Graham.
"Oh, that was marvelous," he said. "I had worked for 10 years during the Twenties in New York in the medical department of the Mutual Life Insurance Company," he said. "During that time, I met Dr. Houghton, Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, and he heard me sing a few songs. Then he was transferred to Chicago to become the president of Moody Bible Institute and we met again at a Bible conference in Pennsylvania. Dr. Houghton said, 'I'd like to ask you if you have ever considered Christian broadcasting. I told him that I didn't know it was available. That's how it went in 1939. I accepted and went to Chicago, staying there five and a half years.
"One morning, there was a rap on my office door. I looked out and there was a tall young man with blond hair and we shook hands. He was 21 and I was 31. It was Billy Graham and he had traveled in from Wheaton College on a train just to say 'hello.' He said that he listened to my morning hymn show called 'Hymns From The Chapel.' That's how we first got acquainted.
"I came into this work with Mr. Graham in 1947 after we had exchanged letters and talked on the phone. He said he wanted me to be his gospel singer. I thanked him, but told him the only gospel singers I've ever heard about would sing a verse or two and stop and talk awhile. 'Would I have to do that?' I asked him. He chuckled and said, 'I hope not.'
"With that, I said, 'Well, I'd like to come with you. That was in November of 1947 and I've been with him ever since."
Bev said that his first appearance with Mr. Graham took place at the Old Armory in Charlotte, North Carolina and so I asked him what he sang on that first night.
"It was, 'I Will Sing The Wondrous Story,' the old congregational hymn," he replied. "And I remember that someone in the audience gave that information to Billy Graham's mother and she wrote me a note in which she said, 'Whenever you come around, please sing that again.'"
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SOURCE: ASSIST News Service