Wed, February 23, 2011
Entertainment > Music > Grammy Awards 2011

102-year old gospel singer wins lifetime achievement award

2011-02-13 08:10:30 GMT2011-02-13 16:10:30(Beijing Time)

George Beverly Shea

Canadian gospel singer George Beverly Shea received a lifetime achievement award from the Grammys on Saturday — and then the 102-year-old proceeded to prove he still knows exactly how to mesmerize an audience.

After taking the stage to claim his award, Shea sang a couple bars from "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho" and related a couple of anecdotes before eliciting a standing ovation from a gala crowd gathered on the eve of the 53rd Grammy Awards.

"It's a marvellous occasion," said Shea, who was raised near Ottawa. "God bless each of you."

Shea was recognized alongside Julie Andrews, Roy Haynes, the Juilliard String Quartet, the Kingston Trio, Dolly Parton and the Ramones at Saturday's bash, held at the historic Wilshire Ebell Theater.

Born in the eastern Ontario community of Winchester, Shea was working at a Chicago radio station in 1940 when he met a young pastor named Billy Graham.

Graham asked Shea to sing at his sermons, which began a partnership that has spanned more than a half-century. Shea's booming baritone has set the stage for Graham in massive venues the world over, including New York's Madison Square Garden and London's Wembley Stadium.

Shea meanwhile developed a deep catalogue of original gospel music, including "I'd Rather Have Jesus," "The Wonder of it All'' and "I Love Thy Presence, Lord." His rendition of "How Great Thou Art" is considered a classic.

Though he's been nominated 10 times over his career, he last won a Grammy in 1966 for best gospel or other religious recording, an honour he shared with Anita Kerr.

"It's been a long time since I won a Grammy," he pointed out onstage.

"They found me somewhere and then this happened."

That's just one example of Shea's dry sense of humour, evident again and again on this day.

Before the show, he was asked how he felt as he was about to receive the honour.

"Well, I'm alive," he said slyly.

And did he have any jitters about accepting the award?

"Oh, a little bit — I'm two years past 100, so I think I'd be a little nervous," he replied, a mischievous smile spreading across his face.

But clearly the honour meant something to Shea and his family, who accompanied the singer along with Karlene, his wife of 25 years ("25 years of bliss with a capital 'B,'" Shea said from the stage).

"I think (the award) probably just means the culmination of everything he's done in his life," said his son, Ron Shea, as they entered the gala.

Parton didn't necessarily want to view her own award the same way. Instead, the seven-time Grammy winner said in a video message she planned on winning "at least seven more."

"If you think I'm done, you're wrong," the country legend said.

Andrews also pointed out that the award wouldn't signal the end of her illustrious career.

"Thank you for allowing me to come full circle once again and for this wonderful lifetime (award)," said the "Sound of Music" star.

"It's been a great ride for me, and the adventure and the journey continues."

The evening seemed more like a catharsis for those associated with the Ramones.

Since founding members Joey, Johnny and Dee Dee Ramone died over a three-and-a-half-year period last decade, the '70s punk icons were represented by various family members, as well as the group's three drummers: Marky, Tommy and Richie Ramone.

"This is amazing, I never expected this," Marky Ramone said.

Despite their innovative sound — a simplistic assault that stripped away all the bloated excess of '70s rock — the Ramones had actually never won a Grammy before.

So the lifetime achievement nod seemed to bring validation.

"It means that somebody finally woke up and opened their eyes and realized what a tremendous contribution the Ramones made to music," said Mickey Leigh, the brother of singer Joey Ramone, on the red carpet.

"(They) influenced people in music and fashion more than any other band I can think of other than the Beatles. ... I hate to speak for people, but I think I can safely say that it would have meant everything (to Joey)."

Linda Ramone, wife of the band's late guitarist, Johnny, called the group "one of the rock bands of all time" before adding: "God bless America and God bless Johnny Ramone."

Shea was, of course, a bit more modest. In recent weeks, the singer — who lives in Montreat, N.C. — has consistently expressed his surprise that he was chosen for the award.

"It's a real honour to be here," he said simply as he entered.

But his son was more willing to give his father credit for a career that has produced more than 70 recordings and allowed Shea to sing for 220 million people cumulatively — a world record, according to Guinness.

"He was surprised, I think we were all surprised," Ron Shea said.

"But after a while we thought about it and we knew he deserved it."

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