Ron Kelly, Jr: wrote about the song –
Rhea F. Miller (1894 – 1966) was the only daughter of Martin and Bertha Ross, from Brooktondale, NY, which is 8 miles out of Ithaca, NY. “Grampa Ross,” we called him, had been a drunk and wanted nothing to do with religion. His wife, Bertha, was faithful to God in spite of her husband’s drunkenness. Her faithfulness and the prayers of family and friends eventually led to his salvation and deliverance from alcohol. As a result, he entered the ministry and became pastor of the Baptist Church in Brooktondale. The Miller family attended the Baptist church, whose members included a young man named Howard Vassar Miller. He was saved in 1910 when he was just 16 years old. It wasn’t long before he and Rhea caught each others’ eye, and after he graduated from Colgate University, he and Rhea were married.
One day in 1922, at 28 years of age, while walking the fields of their Brooktondale home, Rhea began to reflect on her father’s testimony of how he had been delivered from alcohol, and how he had said he would ‘rather have Jesus than all the gold and silver in the world, and all the houses and land that money could buy’. Thus the song was born and soon took form with her own words complete with her own music. . . . Years later, George Beverly Shea found the song in just its poem form and wrote his version of the music to “I’d Rather Have Jesus.” [End quote]
In 1932 at the age of 23 George Beverly Shea had a hard decision to make. With his wonderful deep voice he could accept a job offer in a secular singing position in New York City with a great salary and wide respect; or he could continue singing in churches and for Christian radio programmes. While sitting at the family piano, he started to prepare a special hymn for the Sunday service. But suddenly, on the piano, he became aware of a poem written by Mrs Rhea F. Miller in 1922, placed there by his mother Bev, who was becoming anxious about her son’s future. Looking at the words, he was convicted by the mention of ‘world-wide fame’ and realised that his career lay in the direction of Christian music, rather than the secular world. Declaring to the Lord his intentions, he immediately began to compose music for the poem and used the song that same morning in his father’s church service. He has subsequently shared this song, “I’d Rather Have Jesus” with audiences around the world, especially in connection with Billy Graham and Cliff Barrows, bringing many to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, and convicting many others of their worldly life-style.
Bev Shea lived to a remarkable age, having been born 1st February 1909 and died 16th April 2013, aged 104. And Billy Graham, with whom he formed such a close relationship, born born November 7th 1918, will this year reach the age of 96.
Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, who had listened to the music composed by Bev Shea, was also a centenarian, born 4th August 1900 and died 30th March 2002, aged 101.