Singer knew the Lord, is singing with him now

Published 11:52 pm Friday, April 26, 2013

Growing up, I watched broadcasts of evangelist Billy Graham preaching in stadiums and arenas around the world.  Just before his sermon, an older gentleman with a deep baritone voice usually sang a hymn.

George Beverly Shea, who recently died at the age of 104, will be remembered for singing at crusades for almost four decades. He recorded 70 albums and earned Grammy’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.

But did you know he also wrote the melody to a hymn found in most hymnbooks today?  Shea, born in Ontario, Canada, in 1909, was the son of a Wesleyan Methodist minister.  As a young person, he began singing in his father’s church.

After high school, Shea attended Houghton College in New York, but family financial problems forced him to leave after his freshman year. He went home to live with his parents, who were pastoring a church in New Jersey, and got a job as an insurance clerk.

Shea told of the day he found a poem on the music rack of his family’s piano. His mother, who was a collector, loved to share poetry and would leave poems or quotations she’d copied from books or clipped from magazines on the piano.

One Sunday morning, then 20-year-old Shea read a poem written by Rhea F. Miller. He immediately wrote a melody for the words and sang the song that morning in his father’s church. “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.”

George Beverly Shea once shared these wise words, “God will guide your life when you give the direction to Him.”  His advice is based on the truth taught in Matthew 16:24 – 26, “If any man (or woman) will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”

That’s exactly what happened to Shea. After nine years in the insurance business, he had an opportunity to audition for a network radio program and make good money. He turned down their once-in-a-lifetime offer because he didn’t feel right about accepting it. Later, in 1943, he began singing gospel music on a national radio program in Chicago.  A young Billy Graham was pastoring a church in Illinois and heard Shea sing.

In 1947, Shea went to Charlotte, N.C., to sing at the first of Graham’s citywide crusades.  He gave up a promising secular career to sing nationwide and spent his lifetime singing the gospel around the world. He wrote the words and music to another hymn. The chorus says, “O the wonder of it all, Just to think that God loved me.”

His son, Ron, remarked at his father’s memorial service, “He loved the Lord. He knew music, he loved singing praises and we loved him for it.”  I can imagine George Beverly Shea now singing praises to the Lord in heaven’s choir.


Jan White is an award-winning religion columnist.  Her email address is