Have you ever heard the name George Beverly Shea? He was best known as the featured soloist with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association; however, he also had many recordings, television rallies, and even a radio program called “Hour of Decision.” His famous song, “I’d Rather Have Jesus,” was the first song he ever wrote.
Shea was born into a solid Christian home in Winchester, Ontario, on February 1, 1909, to a Methodist minister and his faithful wife. He grew up listening to his father preach, and his mother strongly influenced his life both spiritually and musically. His community knew George’s musical talent as he sang in his father’s church and other churches in the area. Shea attended college but had to leave due to his family’s financial troubles. He came home to live with his parents and worked as a clerk in an insurance office. He became closer to them both, and it was at this time he composed the song, “I’d Rather Have Jesus.” His mother loved to collect different poems, quotations, songs, etc., and would often leave these things on the piano. This was how he found the lyrics to “I’d Rather Have Jesus.” He composed a melody to accompany the lyrics and sang it in his father’s church. He said, “Without her inspiring lyrics, there would have been no song…Over the years, I’ve not sung any song more than ‘I’d Rather Have Jesus,’ but I never tire of Mrs. Miller’s heartfelt words.”
Shea’s love for music continued into his adult years but never overshadowed his love for the Lord. When he was offered an audition for a national radio program on network radio, he turned it down because he didn’t feel right being a part of a secular radio show. He continued voice training and working on Christian radio networks until after he was married. Not long into their marriage, Shea and his teenage sweetheart moved to Chicago, and he continued working on radio networks. He even sang the gospel on a national radio program and sang in Youth for Christ rallies. George’s time in Christian music ministry also included being a part of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. He received an honorary doctorate for his ministry.
George had quite an impact on Christians, whether through the lyrics of his song, “I’d Rather Have Jesus,” or through the Billy Graham Crusades. He was passionate about the gospel ministry and chose the Lord Jesus every time.
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I love this song, and so thankful for God’s Grace that has made this song’s testimony mine also. So appreciative of you sharing these stories – mini bios, of these hymn writers. So edifying and encouraging to our walk in Christ. Thank you!