Grammy-winning gospel singer George Beverly Shea died in Asheville, North Carolina last night after a brief illness. He was 104.
Shea was best known as the singing soloist for Billy Graham, whose organization released a statement mourning Shea's death. Graham says he first met the singer in 1943 in Chicago: "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 received 10 Grammy nominations, winning one in 1965 and was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Grammy organization in 2011. WFAE reporter Duncan McFadyen tells our Newscast unit that of all the gospel songs the baritone performed, his version of "How Great Thou Art" became best known.
Shea recorded more than 70 albums and toured internationally. He began singing as a child in his father's Canadian Methodist church, and as a young man, started work in the insurance business. The Asheville Citizen-Times says he got his musical break on comedian Fred Allen's weekly NBC radio show. He lost the first prize to a chain-smoking yodeler. But the appearance led to other singing opportunities and radio work in Chicago, where he later met Graham.
Shea is survived by his wife, Karlene, and two children from his first marriage, Ronald and Elaine. His first wife, Erma, died in 1976. Funeral details haven't been announced.