Iris E. Shea, 56, who was a professional singer in Washington before World War II and a soloist at church functions for the past 27 years, died of cancer Saturday at the National Institutes of Health.

Mrs. Shea was a feature vocalist with the Paul Kain orchestra and appeared at both Glen Echo and the old Wardman Park Hotel before World War II.

During the war she served in the Women's Army Corps in Italy and North Africa. She worked as both a teletype operator and sang for the troops.

Mrs. Shea and her husband lived in lowa from 1945 to 1948, then returned to this area, where they became "foster parents" for periods averaging from six to eight months of 35 foster children.

She had been a member of the St. Catherine Laboure Catholic Church in Weaton for the past 27 years. She was a church vocalist and sang at a number of church functions, including weddings and senior citizens gatherings.

Mrs. Shea also had sung at a number of events at the Assembly of God Evangelical Church in Camp Springs during the past three years.

She is survived by her husband, William L. Shea, and three daughters, Colleen M., Katie L., and Ellen M., all of the home in Wheaton; another daughter, Cindy M. Kennedy, of Annapolis; three sons, Michael W., Patrick D., and Sean F., all of Nashville, Tenn.; two sisters, Joseph Kendall and Maryann Palmer, and a brother, William Wade O'Brien, all of Wheaton, and another brother, John T. O'Brien, of Philadelphia.