Legendary gospel singer George Beverly Shea turned 104 yesterday and the Billy Graham Library is honoring him with a special exhibit. The library's exhibit is free and runs through March 31 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Millions of people have heard him sing "How Great Thou Art" and "I'd Rather Have Jesus" at Billy Graham Crusades over several decades around the world.
The famed religious duo are still close as they live less than a mile apart in Montreat, North Carolina. Graham is 94. Shea lives with wife Karlene who said about her husband, "When you live a 100 years you make a lot of friends."
Son Ron Shea was asked when he was in grade school, "What does your father do for a living?"
Ron didn't know quite how to answer that one. His dad is famous around the world for singing his booming baritone voice to more people live than any other gospel singer in the history of the universe.
In fact is was Shea who first made Billy Graham famous.
"George had top billing when we started the Crusades," Graham recounted once. "He was already famous when I came along and asked him to help me with the Crusades. His name was in big letters across the top of our circulars and my name was in smaller letters near the bottom of the page."
Shea was born to a minister and his wife in Winchester, Ontario in 1909.
Highlights of the display which is open to the public include the piano on which Shea composed the music to the well-known hymn "I'd Rather Have Jesus."
Also included in the exhibit is his Lifetime Achievement Grammy (received in 2011) and a Western Electric Model 633A "Salt Shaker" microphone that Shea used in the 1940s.
Elvis Presley and Willie Nelson later recorded the song "How Great Thou Art" which Shea first made famous with his signature version of the hymn.
Billy Graham once said, "I've been listening to Bev Shea sing for 50 years and there's still nobody I'd rather hear sing than him."
Ron Shea remembers his father kneeling down beside his bed each night and praying. Shea said it wasn't "a showy thing" to impress other people. It was based on a simple faith in God.
Ron currently works for the Billy Graham Evangelical Association in the donor department. He says people frequently recognize his name and ask if the celebrated singer is his father.
Shea has sung "I'd Rather Have Jesus" to crowds around the world in several language including Mandarin, Swedish, Finnish, Japanese and Spanish.
One of the verses of the song "I'd rather have Jesus than riches and gold" pretty well sums up the core of Shea's life.
Shea and Graham first met in 1940 when the then pastor was preaching at the Village Church of Western Springs in Illinois. It would be the only pastorate Graham ever had before he hit the road leading his rousing Crusades with Shea always there by his side.
Shea was 31 and Graham 21 at the time.
The Billy Graham Library is located at 4330 Westmont Drive in Charlotte, North Carolina for those who would like to visit the George Beverly Shea Exhibit.
Anyone interested in receiving free updates of Western Religion articles should click on the subscribe link above this article. Readers may also follow me on Twitter, Facebook and Google.