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Gospel singer George Beverly Shea dead at 104; sang at Graham crusades

George Beverly Shea, the booming baritone who sang to millions of Christians at evangelist Billy Graham's crusades, died Tuesday after a brief illness. He was 104.

Spokesman Brent Rinehart of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association said Shea died in Asheville after a brief illness.

Shea was well-known as a gospel soloist before he and Graham met in the early 1940s. He joined Graham's crusade team in 1947 and stayed until Graham's declining health ended most of the evangelist's public appearances nearly 60 years later.

Besides his distinctive voice, Shea was known for his trademark rendition of "How Great Thou Art" and his inspirational "The Wonder of It All." He performed live before an estimated 200 million at crusades over the years and recorded more than 70 albums.

Graham said at Shea's 100th birthday celebration in February 2009 that he couldn't have had a ministry without Shea.

"I first met Bev Shea while in Chicago when he was on Moody Radio," Graham said then. "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 was the recipient of ten Grammy nominations, a Grammy Award in 1965, and was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Grammy organization in 2011. He was also a member of the Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame and was inducted into the Religious Broadcasting Hall of Fame in February 1996. Shea was also inducted into the inaugural class of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists' "Hall of Faith" in 2008.

Born in Winchester, Ontario, where his father was a Wesleyan Methodist minister, Shea's first public singing was in the choir of his father's church. Between crusade, radio, and television dates in many countries, he sang at hundreds of concerts and recorded more than 70 albums. At age 23 he composed the music to one of his best known solos, "I'd Rather Have Jesus."

Shea is survived by his wife, Karlene, and his children from his first marriage, Ronald and Elaine. He was preceded in death by his first wife, Erma, who died in 1976.

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