Contemporary evangelists, with their passionate sermons, modern music and revival of multitudes has one twentieth-century preacher to thank for his innovation. Billy Graham has changed the world in many ways over his long career as an evangelist.
In fact, he changed the very definition of the term “evangelist.” Reverend Graham’s work was revolutionary. It is also worth noting that his musicians were remarkable not only for their music, but for their loyalty to the gospel and Billy. Four of the most famous include George B. Shea, Paul Michelson, Tedd Smith and Cliff Barrows.
George Beverly Shea, a baritone, is the most well known of Rev. Graham’s musicians. His voice has been heard on the Hour of Decision since 1950. The show reaches all over the world. Shea is often referred to as “America’s Beloved Gospel Singer.” He has recorded over seventy albums worth of gospel music, he and is most known for his rendition of the 1920’s hymn “How Great Thou Art.” During his televised career, Shea was nominated for ten Grammy Awards. He won a Grammy in 1965. He was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1978 and the Religious Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 1996. Shea has worked side-by-side with Billy Graham since 1943.
Paul Mickelson, an organist, is another of the legendary musicians who served on Billy Graham’s team. In fact, it was Mickelson’s childhood dream to play for Rev. Graham’s crusades. In 1950, his dream came true. He played for Rev. Graham until 1957 when a desire to work on original Christian music in the studio caused Mickelson to leave the crusades. He helped a wide variety of artists get their start in gospel music such as the Lang Sisters and Pat Boone. Mickelson died in 2001.
Tedd Smith, a pianist, joined Billy Graham for over forty years. He traveled to war-torn Vietnam with Rev. Graham. Smith was trained in music at The Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, the University of Minnesota and the Catholic University in Washington, D.C. Smith has published nearly twenty songbooks, with arrangements of traditional songs alongside his own compositions. Smith even composed a rock opera after leaving Rev. 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 he has served as the host of the Hour of Decision since its inception. He’s the song leader for Billy Graham’s crusade meetings. He is also an ordained Baptist minister. He was 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 the stage in Baltimore nearly 60 years after Graham’s crusade first visited the city. Though he is now ninety years old, the reverend delivered a passionate sermon equal to those of his youth. He stated that this may be his last opportunity to preach to a crowd of that magnitude, so he’d better take advantage of it.
The Reverend Graham’s work was revolutionary throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries because of his tremendous support staff. These four musicians, along with countless others who have helped Billy Graham’s crusades, are the backbone of his ministry and have influenced gospel music in ways that cannot be measured. They’re the archetype of modern gospel ministry.