Posted by: rcottrill | April 18, 2013

Bev Shea Promoted to Glory

With the death of George Beverley Shea this week (Apr. 16) at the age of 104, a significant era in gospel music came to an end. Born on February 1, 1909, in Winchester, Ontario, he began an association with evangelist Billy Graham in the 1940’s that lasted over sixty years. He continued to sing solos, even after he passed the century mark.

Graphic Bev SheaBev had a rich baritone voice, enhanced by careful training. (Early on, his vocal coach was renowned operatic baritone John Charles Thomas.) Mr. Shea’s style was plain and unaffected, uncluttered by vocal tricks or fancy arrangements. His diction was crisp and clear–you could understand every word. He looked his audience squarely in the eye and delivered God’s message through the medium of music. A humble and godly man, to many of us he set the standard. He defined what it means to minister in song, rather than simply perform.

And minister he did! This faithful servant of the Lord sang live before an estimated 200 million people, in 185 countries of the world and all fifty of the American states. He continues to bless many more through his over seventy albums of sacred music. Mr. Shea was also a Grammy Award winner (nominated ten times).

It saddened me that little was said in the secular media about the death of the greatest gospel singer of the twentieth century. He deserved more–though the virtual silence didn’t really surprise me. Of course, he’s receiving all the honour due him now, at the feet of Jesus. But if I could hazard a guess, other than meeting his Saviour, I rather think Bev Shea’s greatest thrill will be meeting those in heaven who were blessed by his ministry, and even won to Christ through it (cf. I Thess. 2:19-20).

The Wonder of It All is a song for which Bev wrote both words and music. It celebrates the amazing love of God for us. But the song more often associated with him, one that became his testimony song, is I’d Rather Have Jesus. He composed the tune in 1929, to accompany a poem written in 1922 by Rhea Millar. The words crystallized his determination to use his gift in the service of the Lord.

2) I’d rather have Jesus than men’s applause;
I’d rather be faithful to His dear cause;
I’d rather have Jesus than worldwide fame.
I’d rather be true to His holy name

Than to be the king of a vast domain
And be held in sin’s dread sway.
I’d rather have Jesus than anything
This world affords today.

Many years ago, when an offer came to become a vocalist on a secular network radio program, he turned it down. The possibility of a steady job, and big money in the entertainment business, may have been tempting in those Depression years, but Bev Shea’s sail was set, and he never turned back. His favourite verse was:

“My lips shall greatly rejoice when I sing to You,
and my soul, which You have redeemed” (Psalm 71:23).


  1. […] Robert Cottrill wrote a wonderful dedication today about Mr Shea. You may read it here. […]

  2. Great post. I linked back to it.


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