A new exhibit at the Billy Graham Library will honor Graham’s longtime friend George Beverly Shea, who is widely known for his role as a soloist in Graham’s crusades.
“How Sweet the Sound: A Tribute to George Beverly Shea” opened Feb. 1, which was Shea’s 104th birthday. Shea and his wife, Karlene, live in Montreat, less than one mile from Graham’s house.
“Mr. Shea has been an integral part of Billy Graham’s ministry, even in the early crusades, and we wanted to do this tribute as a way to honor him,” said Sonya Johnson, library promotions manager.
The library first hosted an exhibit about Shea in 2009 to honor his 100th birthday. The new exhibit covers his time with the Billy Graham Ministries, adding information and rare memorabilia from his early career in radio and from his personal life.
Many of the items are on display for the first time, such as the Shea family piano where Shea’s mother, Maude, taught him to play. His parents bought the upright piano, which is made from red mahogany, shortly after they were married.
“That piano was very much a member of their family because it was so beloved,” Johnson said.
The exhibit includes a picture of Shea at the piano with his mother, as well as text from a poem by Rhea F. Miller that Maude Shea placed on the piano one Sunday morning for Shea to read. He was so inspired by the words that he sat down at the instrument and wrote the hymn “I’d Rather Have Jesus.”
Shea, who was born in Ontario, spent his early career in Chicago as a gospel singer for WMBI, a Christian radio station owned by Moody Bible Institute. He worked there in the late 1930s and early 1940s, and the library exhibit includes a vintage salt shaker microphone used during that era.
While Shea was working at WMBI, Graham wrote to him and asked if he would join his first crusade as a singer.
In November 1947, Charlotte hosted that crusade. Shea sang, “I Will Sing the Wondrous Story,” and a decades-long working partnership between Graham and Shea began.
Shea, a baritone, sang in front of more than 200 million people during the crusade, and he is a respected and honored musician. Shea has recorded 70 albums and received two Grammy awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Grammy organization in 2011.
The library exhibit includes Shea’s Grammy awards as well as other personal memorabilia such as his childhood violin, which his father taught him to play, and the suit Shea wore when he received the 2011 Grammy.
Johnson said that Ron Shea, Shea’s son, has helped the library compile the exhibit and shared information about his father.
“He has been a huge asset in giving deeper insight and memories of what some of this memorabilia means to (Shea),” Johnson said.
While Johnson does not expect Shea to visit the exhibit, visitors in early February will be invited to sign birthday banners that will be sent to Shea. Visitors also will receive a free 30-minute DVD about Shea’s music and ministry.
The exhibit is free and open to the public through March 30 at the Billy Graham Library, 4330 Westmont Drive. For more information, visit www.billygrahamlibrary.org.