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Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Bev Shea Talks About How, For First Time in 57 Years, He Missed A Billy Graham Crusade, But Admits He Was Nearly Talked Into It

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

NORTH CAROLINA, USA  (ANS) -- The colorful bass-baritone voice of Bev Shea was missing from the stage at Billy Graham's crusade at the Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., October 7-10, Mo., but it was not for the lack of trying by Mr. Graham and his choir director, platform emcee, and radio-television program director, Cliff Barrows. (Pictured:
Bev Shea and Cliff Barrows in San Diego).

George Beverly Shea, whose singing has been a fixture before Graham takes the podium for nearly six decades, was sidelined by a recent heart attack.

“I am 95 and I am feeling all of 90,” he told ANS.

In an interview from his home in North Carolina, Bev Shea went onto say, “Billy was so nice and wanted me to come to the Kansas City crusade and he kept calling and I said to him, ‘Billy, you do what you doctor’s says?’ He said, ‘Oh Yes,’ and so I had to tell him “I’m afraid what the answer will be then.”

Shea revealed that a doctor had advised him against the trip to Kansas City.

“We are grateful for the measure of health I have after a bit of a set-back,” he said. “A doctor, who is quite a specialist, didn’t want me to get on an airplane or in an automobile and take a big, long trip, so I felt I had to take his advice.”

“I really just wanted to be there,” he continued. “At one point, Billy said, ‘If you can’t do what you usually do, Bev, just come and sit on the platform.’ And Cliff [Barrows] had a little idea. He told me, ‘I’m going to put a microphone in your hand and you can say the verses of ‘How Great Thou Art’ and we’ll sing the verses with the choir.” But it didn’t happen because of my heart problem.”

Still, he said that he and his wife, Karlene, were able to listen to the final night on a local radio station. (Pictured:
George Beverly Shea and his wife Karlene at the Cockman family's 6th Annual Spring Concert).

Shea then explained how he began to feel ill shortly before he was due to fly to London, England, to take part in the Royal Albert Hall 50th anniversary celebration of Billy Graham’s historic Harringay crusade that changed the spiritual climate of Great Britain.

“On May 26, at five o’clock in the afternoon, I felt this tightness in the chest and I was taken to a hospital down the way from where I live and they called it a mild heart attack. They then transferred me to a hospital in Ashville and I stayed there for seven days.

“I was in the same hospital Mr. Graham who was recovering from a pelvic fracture. The paper’s had it that Graham and Shea were in the same hospital. It was quite an honor. Before I left, I called him and said, ‘Billy, I will be checking out of here and I just wanted to say goodbye and I’m praying for your swift recovery.’”

Although he is known as “America’s Beloved Gospel Singer,” Bev Shea was actually born in Winchester, Ontario, Canada, February 1, 1909, where his father was a Wesleyan Methodist minister, Mr. Shea's first public singing was in the choir of his father's church. Later, he sang with the Houghton (N.Y.) College Glee Club.

“I became naturalized way back in 1941 and I’m sorry I don’t have that duel citizenship as we go to Canada every summer, but we didn’t this summer,” he said. “The doctor didn’t want us to go.”


Bev Shea’s greatest fan is Billy Graham who said, "I've been listening to Bev Shea sing for more than 50 years, and I would still rather hear him sing than anyone else I know."

Since George Beverly Shea first sang for Billy Graham on the Chicago radio hymn program, "Songs in the Night," in 1943, he has carried the Gospel in song to every continent and every state in the Union. He is the recipient of ten Grammy nominations, one Grammy Award (1965) and is a member of the Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame (1978).

Through the years, Mr. Shea has been one of the busiest men on the Billy Graham Evangelistic Team. Between crusade, radio, and television dates in many countries, he has sung hundreds of concerts and recorded more than 70 albums of sacred music--including nine CDs.

Every hymn he sings is a testimony to the saving power of Jesus Christ and to Shea's faith in Him. He is a noteworthy composer, and the songs he has written incorporate the same message. He composed the music at age 23 to one of his best-known solos, "I'd Rather Have Jesus," to words by Mrs. Rhea H. Miller. The poem had been left on the family piano by Shea's mother, and after reading the words he sat at the piano and composed the tune. He also wrote "The Wonder of It All," "Sing Me A Song of Sharon's Rose," and "I Love Thy Presence, Lord." His most recent CD, entitled "Out In The Country," was released by Homeland Records. (Pictured:
Bev Shea singing in San Diego).

Shea has utilized all available media to share the "Good News" of Jesus Christ. From 1952, he was heard regularly on network radio, and in more recent years his bass-baritone voice has been transmitted on weekly shortwave programs around the world.

When asked if he knew yet if he would be able to sing at Mr. Graham’s upcoming Greater Los Angeles Crusade at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Nov. 18-21, he replied, ““I still haven’t made that decision. I’m going to ask the doctor again. I tire quite easily and I have to understand that because of my age.”

He then recalled the time he helped make evangelistic history when participated back in 1949, when a young evangelist called Billy Graham, burst onto the world scene with his historic eight-week “sin-smashing” campaign held in a tent at the corner of Washington and Hill in downtown Los Angeles that saw 350,000 in attendance.

The response and enthusiasm from attendees soon began to draw attention, which was heightened when local celebrities such as Stuart Hamblen, who went on to write It Is No Secret (What God Can Do), and Louis S. Zamperini, who went from being a college world class distance runner to Olympic athlete, made public confessions of faith and the Hearst newspaper chain began to print daily favorable stories.

The meetings in “The City of Angeles” have since become legendary as not only the introduction of Billy Graham's evangelistic ministry to the nation at large and soon to the world but also as a very public sign of the reemergence of Evangelicalism as a major force in American life.

In 1950, a film about the meetings called The Canvas Cathedral was released and by this time, Mr. Graham had become a world figure and has since taken him around the world to preach the Gospel to millions.


“The memories are so precious of when we were under the tent in downtown Los Angeles,” he said. “How the people came and kept coming and they had to open up the sides of the tent because of the numbers. Those were great days. They kept extending the crusade because of the numbers that came forward. There were those that made decisions like Stuart Hamblen.”

Bev Shea then thanked all of those who had been praying for him.

“I am spending my time by writing letters,” said Shea. “I have just got a new up-to-date computer yesterday and I have been enjoying it. We have received some gracious letters and cards indicating that folks are praying for us and that means a lot. This is the first time in my life that I have so many letters like this about an illness as I’ve been a pretty healthy guy, and I need to get back the in the harness again. But the friendship of dear Billy Graham and Cliff Barrows, and some of these people that we have worked with – Ted Smith – and others who are so real.

“I also wrote a little book last April with the people there at Tyndale House in Wheaton called ‘How Sweet the Sound,’” he added. (Pictured: Cover of How Sweet the Sound).

The book reflects on 52 hymns and gospel songs that Bev Shea loves, so I asked him what his all-time favorite hymn was.

He paused, laughed and said, “That’s hardly fair. When I sit down at the piano, there are several that I just have to play, and one I love is, ‘He Died for Me.’ That’s one of my personal favorites. And the last crusade I did with Billy we did that one. “Oh Can it Be…” is another.”

Bev Shea is noted for the simplicity of his faith and testimony. To him, compromise is unthinkable. All his life and work is aimed at telling "of the Christ who died for me." A man of deep sympathies, he will listen endlessly to the troubles of others but dismiss his own with a word and a smile.

For those of us who have followed his career for so many years, we can only point to the God he sings about in the great hymn, “How Great Thou Art.”

Come back soon, Bev. We all miss you.

Dan Wooding is an award winning British journalist now living in Southern California with his wife Norma. He is the founder and international director of ASSIST (Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times) and the ASSIST News Service (ANS). Wooding is the co-host of the weekly radio show, "Window on the World" and was, for ten years a commentator, on the UPI Radio Network in Washington, DC. Wooding is the author of some 42 books, the latest of which is his autobiography, "From Tabloid to Truth", which is published by Theatron Books. To order a copy, go to

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