Baritone George Beverly Shea dies aged 104

 

George Beverly Shea, whose booming baritone voice echoed through stadiums, squares and souls during a decades-long career with evangelist Billy Graham, has died aged 104.

Billy Graham Evangelistic Association spokesman Brent Rinehart said Shea died in Asheville, North Carolina, after a brief illness.

Shea's rendition of How Great Thou Art came to define the faith of a Protestant generation that Graham helped bring to Jesus Christ.

He performed live before an estimated 200 million people at crusades over the years - taking him from North Dakota to North Korea and beyond.

He joined Graham's crusade team in 1947 and stayed until Graham's declining health ended most of the evangelist's public appearances nearly 60 years later.

Despite several chances to perform on the secular stage, Shea largely stuck with gospel music. He recorded more than 60 albums of sacred music, won a Grammy - best gospel recording in 1965 for his album Southland Favorites - and was one of the nation's best-known Christian singers. At the age of 88, he recorded his first country-and-western album.

Born on February 1, 1909, in Winchester, Ontario, Shea grew up singing around the family dinner table and then later in his father's church choir.

He moved to New York City and trained with voice coaches, singing on radio stations WMCA and WHN. Though he had a chance to work in the secular business, Shea instead chose to move to Chicago, where he built his popularity at radio station WMBI and later on ABC radio's Club Time.

So he was already well-known in Christian music circles even before he met Graham when the lanky young man, then a student at Wheaton College in Illinois, came to the WMBI studio in Chicago in the early 1940s.

Shea released only a handful of his own songs during his career, including The Wonder Of It All, but was particularly known for reviving gospel classics, such as How Great Thou Art, originally a 19th century Swedish hymn that he first recorded in 1956.

The soloist had two children from his marriage to his first wife, Erma, who died in 1976. Shea and his second wife, Karlene, lived in Montreat, North Carolina.

AP

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