George Beverly Shea died Tuesday at the age of 104. Many of you have never heard of him, I’m sure, but I grew up listening to him sing gospel hymns in his booming baritone when he accompanied Billy Graham on all his crusades. I even had the pleasure of hearing him in person when I was a teenager and attended one of Billy’s crusades in Ohio with my cousin, Cheryl.
My grandfather loved singing hymns, too, and had the most gorgeous deep baritone, just like George Beverly Shea. When I would tell him I thought he sounded just like Mr. Shea, his idol, my grandfather would laugh and tell me he was flattered, but he would never be able to sing like that. My grandfather was a humble man. Though he never would have bragged about his talent for singing, other people recognized it, and his church often had him sing solos in some of their musical productions. He was in his early eighties when he sang his last solo, “The longer I serve Him, the sweeter He grows.”
My grandfather, whom we called Daddy Bill, struggled nearly all his life, yet I never heard him complain or say a mean word about anyone. When he was a young man with two babies, he contracted tuberculosis and had to move his family from Kentucky to the Southwest to drier air in order to heal. He stayed in San Antonio for about a year before trying New Mexico and, finally, Arizona. It was a struggle to provide for his family, especially when the Depression hit. He tried his hand at opening a little restaurant, my mother told me. It didn’t last very long in the terrible economy, but my mother learned how to make the Coney Island chili sauce for hot dogs that I wish she’d shown me how to make before she died.
Daddy Bill did heal and return to Kentucky, but his health was always fragile because he had nearly lost one of his lungs to the disease. Later in his life he had several strokes which left him limping and using a cane and with a weak side. Again, I never heard him complain. He kept on smiling and kept on singing. He was such an inspiration to me that in sixth grade I wrote an essay about him on the topic of “My Hero” sponsored by the American Legion. I won, and when I showed him the essay, he cried. I still have that essay somewhere.
Though weak in body, my grandfather had a faith that made him strong. This post is not meant to be preachy. Many people find strength to live their lives from many sources. For my grandfather, it was from his Lord, and he loved to sing about Him. He particularly loved it when I would sing with him and we would harmonize. One of his favorite hymns was “It Is Well With My Soul,” which has a wonderful deep bass part in the chorus. The one I loved the most, though, was when he would sing “His Eye Is On the Sparrow.” I can still hear his voice in my head and in my heart.
This song and testimony from George Beverly Shea echoes my grandfather’s own view of his life. Though Daddy Bill never had much materially, he considered himself rich beyond measure.
Hearing about the death of George Beverly Shea made me think about my grandfather’s beautiful voice and his beautiful life.
What a beautiful tribute to your amazing grandfather! I too remember George Beverly Shea very well from Billy Graham crusades. Makes me smile just to think about him singing those lovely old hymns. And you were so blessed to listen (and sing along) with your Daddy Bill. Thanks for sharing those cherished memories with us!
Thanks, Mama. I used to harmonize with my mother, too. She had the sweetest soprano voice, and I sang alto. Wish I had somebody to harmonize with now.
That’s one of my favorite songs. I remember when accompaniment tapes first came out, I had that one, and I loved it better than any of my other tapes. 🙂
I like the way memories of hymn singing connects so many if us, History Gal.
Your musical talents must come for him :-).I hope you can find the old essay and share it here…..that would be fun to read.
That would be fun, Stacia. I’ll look for it.
That’s a moving story about your grandfather. People find strength to live from many sources…
Yes, they do, Amy. I’m always amazed.
What lovely memories. I don’t recall hearing my grandpa sing, but Mom said he sang bass. I guess he was a skinny little man with a great big voice.
How old were you, Patti, when he died? Did you get to see him a lot when you were little?
What a great tribute to your grandfather. And I do remember George Beverly Shea–thanks for the memories.
Thank you for reading, Patti Ross.
This is wonderful, Susan! I love that you shared your memories of your grandfather, his beautiful voice and his faith in the Lord. “It Is Well With My Soul” was always one of my favorites when I played the piano in church; it’s a powerful hymn.
Thank you, Dianna. So many hymns I know have memories like that attached to them. For example, when my grandma and I would wash dishes, we would harmonize on “Trust and Obey.”
Another old favorite! The first hymn I learned on the piano was What A Friend We Have In Jesus.
My first hymn on the piano was “Jesus Loves Me,” Dianna.
Reblogged this on God's Enduring Love and commented:
I remember him also and loved to hear him sing. Hundreds of thousands of folks were blessed by hearing his songs with his powerful voice. I attended a Billy Graham crusade when they came to Hawaii in 1956.
Some of the most beautiful music in the world was written in praise, Shofar, and no instrument is as lovely and powerful as the human voice. Thanks for reblogging my post!
Lovely. I am not very religious myself, but I find I most believe in God when I hear someone singing about Him.
Isn’t that the truth, NQO! My grandfather could make a believer out of anyone.
This is my grandfather, too, and I never knew he had singing talent. Or maybe I did and just forgot. It’s been 33 years since I’ve seen him. My dad (his son) brought he and Grandma to Rockford to celebrate Christmas; that may have been his last. I am enjoying looking at the picture taken of you, Mark, and the grandparents at the United Nations.
I’m 68 now, and everything from that era is gone. I don’t wish it back–just prefer cherishing memories. And I’m looking forward to seeing them some day in another world. Also, you and Mark. Thank you for this blog. Love, Pam
So glad you read this post, Pammy! Hope you are well.
Lovely tribute. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks for reading, Grandma. I appreciate you!