Award-winning baritone George Beverly Shea, known best for his role in the Billy Graham evangelistic crusades, will hit a new high note this weekend – one that only 60,000 or so Americans living today have reached.
On Sunday, Shea will celebrate his 100th birthday and be the guest of honor the following day during a special private gathering of family and friends at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville, N.C.
"On the ladder of life, I have reached rung 100," said Shea of his 100th birthday.
“And I can see the scenery a little better than those who are still climbing,” he added.
As the musical mainstay in Graham's crusades, Shea has often been called "America's Beloved Gospel Singer." Through the years, Shea has participated in hundreds of concerts and recorded more than 70 albums of religious music.
He also holds the world record for singing to the most people in person, having had a career in network radio beginning in the 1920s, and reaching hundreds of millions through Billy Graham's worldwide evangelistic crusades.
"Bev was the very first person I asked to join me in evangelism,” the Rev. Billy Graham has recalled.
“I have sometimes said that I would feel lost getting up to preach if Bev were not there to prepare the way through an appropriate song," the world renowned evangelist added. "I will always be grateful not only for his musical contributions to our Crusades but also for his warm spirit and his personal friendship over the years."
For his significant contributions to Gospel music, Shea was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame by the Gospel Music Association in 1978 and the National Religious Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 1996. He has also been nominated for ten Grammy Awards, winning one in 1965 for “Best Inspirational Performance.”
Last year, at the age of 99, Shea continued to perform in front of large audiences, taking part in two evangelistic festivals lead by Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son and the current head of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
In the past few years, Shea has also ministered alongside a third generation of Grahams, performing at Will Graham Celebrations in Gastonia, N.C. and Paducah, Ky.
Among the songs he’s sung, Shea is best known for his rendition of "How Great Thou Art." His most popular hymn, meanwhile, is "The Wonder of It All," the title of which was also used by the University of North Carolina Center for Public Television for their 1998 production of his life story.