Canadian-born gospel singer George Beverly Shea, who sang to millions at evangelist Billy Graham's crusades, has died at age 104.
Shea died Tuesday night in Asheville, N.C., after a brief illness, Brent Rinehart, spokesman for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association said in a statement.
Just two years ago, the Grammy Awards gave Shea a lifetime achievement award and he was greeted with a standing ovation. He's been nominated for Grammys 10 times over his career and won in 1966 for best gospel or other religious recording, an honour he shared with Anita Kerr.
The Winchester, Ont.-born singer has released more than 70 albums. The son of a Wesleyan minister, he grew up singing hymns around the dinner table and in his father's church.
He moved to New York and trained with vocal coaches, then became a regular on radio, becoming a well-known gospel soloist in the 1930s and 1940s, because of his rich baritone voice.
He met Billy Graham in 1947 and soon found himself singing before the crowds that attended Graham's sermons. He remained with Graham's crusade until his retirement in 2005.
"As a young man starting my ministry, I asked Bev if he would join me," Graham said as he announced his retirement. "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 was known for his trademark rendition of How Great Thou Art and his inspirational The Wonder of It All.
Shea believed the simplicity of old hymns drew people to his music. "It’s the message of the lyrics, the test that hits the heart in a hurry and the melody that goes along with it and seems to all go together," Shea said.
He had two children with his first wife, Erma, who died in 1976 and is survived by his second wife, Karlene.