Billy Graham, Over 250 Celebrate 100th Birthday of 'America's Beloved Gospel Singer'

Friends and family of George Beverly Shea gathered Monday night to celebrate the legendary Gospel soloist's 100th birthday.

After marking the milestone on Sunday, Shea was joined by longtime friends including the Rev. Billy Graham, music director Cliff Barrows, and gospel music legends Bill and Gloria Gaither.

In total, more than 250 reportedly came out Monday evening to honor Shea at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville, N.C. And it was the presence of loved ones that appeared to touch Shea most – more so than the Rodgers organ he received for his birthday gift.

"I was overwhelmed that so many people were here tonight," said Shea after the event. "And I never dreamed I would get a gift like this."

After decades as the musical mainstay in Billy Graham's evangelistic crusades, Shea has come to be known by many as "America's Beloved Gospel Singer." And after traveling around the world with the now-retired Graham, Shea came to hold the world record for singing to the most people in person, reaching hundreds of millions through Graham's worldwide evangelistic crusades and also through his career in network radio that began in the 1920s.

"All these years, Daddy always said that a Crusade really began when Uncle Bev walked up to the mic and began to sing," remarked Franklin Graham, Billy Graham's youngest son and the head of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

"I'm deeply grateful to him," added the older Graham during the event. "I count him as one of my closest friends and confidantes."

Aside from his crusade appearances, Shea has recorded more than 70 albums of religious music and 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 for his significant contributions to Gospel music.

He has also been nominated for ten Grammy Awards, winning one in 1965 for "Best Inspirational Performance."

Although Shea is a decade older than Billy Graham, he is in far better health and even performed last year in front of large audiences, taking part in two evangelistic festivals led by Franklin Graham.

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.

Shea currently lives in Montreat, N.C., with his second wife, Karlene, who he married ten years after his first wife passed away. He has two children, Ronnie and Elaine, from his first marriage.

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