George Beverly Shea, a gospel soloist who for 60 years accompanied Billy Graham on his evangelical crusades, died Tuesday in Asheville, N.C. He was 104.
Shea succumbed to a brief illness according to Brent Rinehart, a spokesman for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
The singer, who was known for his booming baritone voice, met Graham in the early 1940s and than sang with him for the next six decades, reported The Associated Press.
Through Graham's 400-plus crusades, which took place in 185 countries on six continents, Shea's voice was heard by an estimated 200 million Christians over the years.
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Besides his distinctive voice, Shea was known for his trademark rendition of "How Great Thou Art" and his inspirational "The Wonder of It All." In addition to his live performances with Graham, Shea recorded more than 70 albums in his lifetime.
Graham said at Shea's 100th birthday celebration in February 2009 that he couldn't have had a ministry without Shea.
"I first met Bev Shea while in Chicago when he was on Moody Radio," Graham said then. "As a young man starting my ministry, I asked Bev if he would join me. He said yes and for over 60 years we had the privilege of ministering together across the country and around the world. Bev was one of the most humble, gracious men I have ever known and one of my closest friends. I loved him as a brother."
Shea was the recipient of 10 Grammy nominations, a Grammy Award in 1965, and was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Grammy organization in 2011. He was also a member of the Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame and was inducted into the Religious Broadcasting Hall of Fame in February 1996. Shea was also inducted into the inaugural class of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists' "Hall of Faith" in 2008.
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Born in Winchester, Ontario, where his father was a Wesleyan Methodist minister, Shea's first public singing was in the choir of his father's church. Between crusade, radio, and television dates in many countries, he sang at hundreds of concerts and recorded more than 70 albums. At age 23 he composed the music to one of his best known solos, "I'd Rather Have Jesus."
Shea is survived by his wife, Karlene, and his children from his first marriage, Ronald and Elaine. He was preceded in death by his first wife, Erma, who died in 1976.
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