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Billy Graham’s Musicians – George Beverly Shea, Paul Michelson, Tedd Smith and Cliff Barrows
Contemporary evangelists, with their impassioned sermons, modern music, and revitalization of the masses, owe their innovation to a twentieth-century preacher. Billy Graham changed the world in many ways during his long evangelistic career.
In fact, he changed the definition of the term “evangelist.” Reverend Graham’s work was revolutionary. It is also worth noting that his musicians were not only notable for their music, but also for their loyalty to gospel and Billy. The four most famous include George B. Shea, Paul Michelson, Tedd Smith, and Cliff Barrows.
Baritone George Beverly Shea is the best known of Reverend Graham’s musicians. His voice has been heard in the Hour of Decision since 1950. The show goes all over the world. Shea is often called “America’s Beloved Gospel Singer”. He has recorded over seventy albums worth of gospel music and is best known for his performance of the 1920s hymn “How Great Thou Art.” During her television career, Shea was nominated for ten Grammy Awards. In 1965, he won a Grammy Award. He was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1978 and the Religious Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 1996. Shea has been working with Billy Graham since 1943.
Organist Paul Mickelson is another legendary musician in Billy Graham’s band. In fact, it was Mickelson’s childhood dream to play in Reverend Graham’s Crusades. In 1950, his dream came true. He played for Rev. Graham until 1957, when Mickelson left the Crusades due to studio work on original Christian music. He helped many artists get started in gospel music, such as the Lang Sisters and Pat Boone. Mickelson died in 2001.
Pianist Tedd Smith joined Billy Graham for over forty years. He traveled with Reverend Graham to war-torn Vietnam. Educated at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, the University of Minnesota, and the Catholic University of Washington, Smith has published nearly twenty songbooks, featuring arrangements of traditional songs in addition to his own compositions. Smith even composed a rock opera after leaving Reverend Graham’s crusades.
The glue that holds the music together is Cliff Barrows, the choir and music director. Barrows has worked with Billy Graham since 1945 and has hosted The Hour of Decision since its inception. He is the song leader at Billy Graham’s crusade meetings. He is also an ordained Baptist minister. He has been inducted into the Nashville Gospel Music Hall of Fame and the Religious Broadcasting Hall of Fame.
In 2006, Billy Graham, George Beverly Shea and Cliff Barrows reunited on stage in Baltimore, nearly 60 years after Graham’s crusade first visited the city. Although he is now ninety years old, the reverend preached as passionately as he did in his youth. He stated that this might be his last chance to preach to such a large crowd, so he better make the most of it.
Reverend Graham’s work was revolutionary in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries because of its enormous support staff. These four musicians, along with countless others who helped Billy Graham’s crusades, form the backbone of his ministry and have influenced gospel music in immeasurable ways. They are the archetypes of modern evangelical ministry.
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