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In this Jan. 13, 2009 file photo, George Beverly Shea talks at his home in Montreat, N.C. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton, File)

I remember, as a young boy, watching Billy Graham crusades on television, sitting in the living room with my parents and occasionally my visiting grandparents. It was common to see my grandmother wiping her eyes with a Kleenex during the message when Cliff Barrows would lead the choir.

I also noticed how everything became quiet when George Beverly Shea would step up to the podium and begin to sing. His vocal style was characterized by a resonant bass-baritone and contained such a sincere and humble delivery that conveyed his passionate conviction. He did not consider himself an entertainer or a showman, but rather simply wanted to tell the world about the love of Jesus and his salvation. When asked about his faith and service for God, he would always point toward heaven and say, "I do it for Jesus. It's all for his glory."

One of eight children, Shea sang in a Methodist church his father pastored. In the late 1930s, Shea moved to Chicago to join the radio station of the Moody Bible Institute as a staff announcer and singer. One day in 1943, a young man knocked on the studio door. The visitor was a Wheaton College student named William Franklin Graham Jr., who had stopped by to tell Shea how much he loved his singing.

Before long, Graham, who had become a minister in Western Springs, Illinois, had recruited Shea to sing on his religious radio program, "Songs in the Night." He performed on the radio program from 1944 to 1952 and joined the Graham evangelistic team in 1947, remaining until his death in 2013.

When they joined forces, Shea was already a nationally known voice in Christian music, while Graham was still gaining in popularity. Their early revival meetings were often advertised with George Beverly Shea singing as the headline and Billy Graham preaching in smaller print. It is estimated that throughout his ministry, Shea sang to over 200 million, as Graham's powerful revival meetings filled stadiums and were televised around the world. He would often laugh and say that Graham would not allow him to retire as the Bible says nothing about retiring from the Lord's work.

As the Billy Graham crusades were so popular and still watched today, and with singing on radio programs such as "The Hour of Decision," Shea was perhaps at one time the most widely heard gospel artist in the world. He was a recording artist with RCA and Word and recorded approximately 500 vocal solos on more than 70 albums, including, "In Times Like These" (1962), "Every Time I Feel the Spirit" (1972), and "The Old Rugged Cross" (1978).

In 1966, he won the Grammy Award for best religious recording for the album "Southland Favorites" with the Anita Kerr Singers. He was the author of several books, including the memoir "How Sweet the Sound" (2004), and the recipient of numerous awards, such as being a member of the Nashville Gospel Music Hall of Fame, the Religious Broadcasting Hall of Fame and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Recording Academy in 2011. On a more intimate scale, he sang at the prayer breakfasts of a series of U.S. presidents, including Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson and George Bush Sr.

Of the hundreds of hymns he sang, Shea was most closely identified with "How Great Thou Art," which became the signature anthem of his ministry. In 1957, at a crusade in New York City, Shea, by popular demand, sang it on 108 consecutive nights. Other songs for which he was known include "I'd Rather Have Jesus," for which he composed the music, and "The Wonder of It All," to which he wrote the lyrics and music.

While having a conversation with a fellow passenger on his way to Scotland to join Graham, Shea was asked to describe what these revival crusades were like. He replied, "I found myself at a loss for words, and finally said, if you could only see the wonder of it all."

Later that evening in his room, Shea wrote the song. He often declared the crowds did not come to hear him, they came to hear Billy Graham and that his favorite part of a crusade was watching the waves of people stream forward during the altar call. Shea is quoted as saying, "The truth is, no man can ever nd true peace or happiness apart from Jesus Christ."

Read more about the Christian life at billyhollandministries.com.

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Billy Holland
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