But inside, photos and other mementos are a reminder of those who stood with the icon for generations, including late gospel legend George Beverly Shea.
On October 19, he will be among those enshrined in the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in Mooresville. Other inductees include country star Scotty McCreery, singer/songwriter Loudon Wainwright III, and Charlotte alternative band Fetchin Bones.
Funk legends Betty Davis and Bill Curtis will also be immortalized.
“That was the original team right there,” Will Graham said, showing us a photograph from the Graham Library.
His grandfather was always in great company, Will says. Billy Graham led a dream team including music/program director Cliff Barrows and, of course, the man known as “America’s beloved gospel singer.”
“Uncle Bev right here, George Beverly Shea,” said Will, pointing at a photo of the Canadian-born vocalist who was often called “America’s beloved gospel singer.”
“Uncle Bev, he would set the table for my granddaddy to preach, “he explained.
“You know when Bev sings, he actually sings a sermon,” Billy Graham once said to an audience at one of his crusades. “When he finishes singing, I never feel like applauding. I feel like bowing my head in prayer.”
Shea and his booming baritone voice were part of the Graham ministry from the 1940s until he died in 2013 at 104.
“He was also a very humble man,” Will Graham said. “It was never about himself, he was never showy, he just loved singing about Jesus.”
“I’m just a simple psalm singer that had the privilege of singing a little psalm before Mr. Graham speaks,” Shea said humbly. “I hope they remember that I stayed on pitch.”
According to Guinness World Records, Shea performed in front of 220 million people in his career. To put that into perspective, Taylor Swift averages about 72 thousand fans on her wildly popular Eras Tour. At that pace, she’d surpass Shea after 3,036 shows. We’re certainly not taking anything away from Swift; the point is that the draw of the Graham Crusades was off the charts.
“He has sung to more people live than anybody in human history,” said Will Graham.
One of the items on display at the Graham Library is Shea’s family piano.
“That’s how he learned music, was on that piano,” said son Ron Shea.
Even when a performance went wrong, his dad humbly pulled it off.
“Every once in a while, he’d forget his words, and he’d be in front of thousands of people, and he’d have to stop and say, ‘You know my mother didn’t teach me very well, I’m going to have to start this again,'” said Ron.
Shea and America’s pastor were a powerful combination at the crusades.
“He usually sang before Billy Graham would speak, and Billy Graham would say himself, ‘I couldn’t speak without having George Beverly Shea first,’ because he kind of calmed the audience,” Ron said.
The NC Music Hall of Fame honor is a reminder of how seamlessly they came together with a message that spoke to the world.
“We’re very grateful for it; I know [Shea’s] family is very grateful for it,” said Will Graham. “This is a wonderful honor for the state to recognize his wonderful talent.”