Born in Canada, he was the fourth of eight children; it is said George Beverly Shea has sung LIVE before more people than anyone else in history—more than Elvis Presley, even more than the Beatles. 

He became a Christian at the age of five or six, but it wasn’t until he re-dedicated his life to Jesus Christ at age eighteen that he felt like he really was a Christian. 

He said, “My dad was pastoring a church in Ottawa (Canada), and I was feeling not too spiritual. The church was having a ‘special effort’, as they called it, for a week. I remember that on Friday night dad came down from the pulpit and tenderly placed his hand on my shoulder. He whispered, ‘I think tonight might be the night, son, when you come back to the Lord’. Whatever dad did or said, I listened to him and respected him. And, yes, that was the night.”

He learned the violin from his dad and the piano and organ from his mother. He did his first formal singing in his father’s church choir, and for many years around the family table. He married his childhood sweetheart Erma In 1934; they had two children, Ronnie and Elaine.

He first met Billy Graham in 1943 when Graham was pastoring his first church, The Village Church in Western Springs, Illinois. This was a small town about twenty miles west of Chicago.  Mr. Shea was working at the radio station of the Moody Bible Institute (WBMI) near Chicago.  One morning, there was a rap on his office door, and when he looked out, there stood a tall young man with blond hair. It was Billy Graham (William Franklin Graham Jr), and he had traveled in from Wheaton College on a train just to say ‘hello”. They shook hands. Graham told him he listened to his morning hymn show called 'Hymns From The Chapel.'  That's how they first got acquainted. 

Beverly could be either a name for a boy or a girl. The advertising agency that sponsored Beverly Shea’s radio program felt the audience was confused by his first name, so he changed his name to George Beverly Shea.  By 1951 he had become the best known male soloist gospel singer in America.

Billy Graham went on to become the youngest president of a college in the nation at  Northwestern Bible college in Minneapolis.  He kept in touch with Shea.  Mr. Graham felt called to be an evangelist, not an educator, and he hoped “Bev” Shea would join him full time in evangelism and be his gospel singer.  

They exchanged letters and talked on the phone. Shea relates, “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 a while. '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.’ Thus the BGEA or Billy Graham Evangelistic Association was born!  In 1947 he joined Mr. Graham and Cliff Barrows, (Graham’s longtime music director), at the first Billy Graham Crusade in Charlotte, N.C.

In 1949 Billy Graham’s uncle died and Billy was to preach the funeral service in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, a small town off the beaten path.  For Shea and Billy to get to the service in time, they would have to fly instead of drive. The only flight they could get was on a small private airplane, and the only pilot they could find to fly the plane was a student pilot.  

Graham and Shea were cruising along when the student pilot said, “I don’t know if we have any fuel, the gauge isn’t working.” The student pilot landed and then siphoned (borrowed) gas from a nearby parked car.  Billy put some dollar bills under the windshield wiper hoping that would be enough to pay for the “borrowed” gasoline and inconvenience.  They took off again, but the plane’s motor began to sputter. It wasn’t designed to fly on car gasoline.

They landed two more times for airplane fuel and directions and finally arrived just in time,  just as the funeral services started.  Shea seated himself at the piano and Billy took his place at the front of the church. Then the kindly old pastor of the small church in Tahlequah, said, “Do you know, ladies and gentlemen, what a privilege it is to have George Beverly Shea here with us today?”  Because of his time on the radio, Shea was a known national celebrity.  But, few people knew then who Billy Graham was.

Shea was well known for his renditions of “How Great Thou Art” and "The Wonder of It All”.  He became best known for a song he wrote the music to “I’d Rather Have Jesus”. )

            I'd rather have Jesus than silver or gold;

            I'd rather be His than have riches untold;

            I'd rather have Jesus than houses or land;

            I'd rather be led by His nail-pierced hand.

            Than to be the king of a vast domain 

            Or be held in sins dread sway.

            I'd rather have Jesus than anything

            This world affords today.

            I'd rather have Jesus than vain applause;

            I'd rather be faithful to His dear cause;

            I'd rather have Jesus than worldwide fame;

            I'd rather be true to His holy name;

            Than to be the king of a vast domain

            Or be held in sins dread sway.

            I'd rather have Jesus than anything

            This world affords today.           

On one crusade he and Billy Graham were in Helsinki, Finland. Shea sang “I’d Rather Have Jesus” in Finnish.  He had had the words written out for him phonetically in that language.  This was so successful that Shea adopted that practice and sang in the local language at many of the Billy Graham Crusades.

Both of the Shea’s  children, Ronnie and Elaine, became Christians at Billy Graham Crusades—one in San Fransisco (1958) and the other at a Crusade in Australia (1959). In 1976, when Erma died after an extended illness, it was a trying time for Shea. They had been married for more than forty years.

For nearly ten years Shea was a widower. He relates about the time he and Billy were in Korea in 1984.  Billy brought Shea into his hotel room and said that he had been talking to Ruth, his wife, in Montreat, (North Carolina) on the phone that morning and that they agreed that ten years was enough.  Graham mentioned Karlene, a lady who worked in Billy’s office.  Shea began to date Karlene and finally asked Karlene’s son for permission to marry his mother.  The son said “yes”, and they were married and enjoyed more than “20 years of bliss.” 

One day Shea asked Mr. Graham if he had ever thought of saying “you come” as the choir was singing.  Perhaps with just the choir singing, there might be more contemplation upon the “call” of the Holy Spirit.  Soon after that, for the first time in his growing ministry, Graham began to say at the close of every service, "As the choir sings, you come!”

Billy Graham has said, ”I've been listening to Bev Shea sing for more than fifty years, and I would still rather hear him sing than anyone else I know.”  Shea was a vital part of Mr. Graham’s work of evangelism and also appeared regularly on “The Hour of Decision,” Mr. Graham’s weekly radio broadcast that began in 1950. Mr. Shea received ten Grammy nominations, two Grammy Awards (1965 and 2011) and was a member of the Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame (1978).  He sung hundreds of concerts and recorded more than 70 albums of sacred music—including nine CDs. Yet, Shea was always very modest about his role.

He was still singing into his second century. He often said that Mr. Graham would not let him retire, since nowhere in Scripture is the concept of retirement overtly addressed!  The man who became known as America’s beloved gospel singer joined the heavenly choir on April 17, 2013.  He was 104 years old.  

In one of GOD’S OTHER WAYS© the Lord has truly blessed us through the music of George Beverly Shea.