George Hamilton IV, the 50-year “Grand Ole Opry” star known as the “International Ambassador of Country Music,” died Wednesday at a Nashville hospital. Mr. Hamilton was 77 and had suffered a heart attack on Saturday.
“This revolutionary grew up in the city of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, went to college for four years, doesn’t dig saloons and is happily married,” he wrote. “Do I have to sing honky-tonk songs about slippin’ around and wear a rhinestone-studded cowboy suit to be real?”
Mr. Hamilton burst onto the national music scene in 1956 with the million-selling “A Rose and a Baby Ruth,” For Mr. Hamilton, his 1959 entry into country music was a natural transition. He grew up in North Carolina, listening to “Opry” stars Hank Williams, Hank Snow, Jimmy Dickens and Eddy Arnold. He joined the “Opry” himself in February 1960, and Chet Atkins signed him to RCA Victor as a country artist. He notched his first Top 10 country hit in 1960, with “Before This Day Ends,” and repeated that success with “Three Steps to the Phone (Millions of Miles)” and “If You Don’t Know I Ain’t Gonna Tell You.” But his biggest hit came in 1963, with “Abilene,” a loping tribute to a Kansas town and a four-week No. 1 country single.
Mr. Hamilton’s relaxed, literate songs took him across the world. He toured extensively in Europe and studied the European roots of Nashville-based country music. “This music we call American country music had its cradle days in the British Isles,” he told The Tennessean in 2012. “It had its childhood in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and it came of age in Nashville.”
In 1974, Mr. Hamilton became the first country artist to perform behind the Iron Curtain, playing in Czechoslovakia and in Russia. In the latter country, he lectured on the history of country music. He was a passionate advocate for country music, and for his deeply held faith, frequently performing as part of Billy Graham’s Christian crusades.
Mr. Hamilton’s final Top 40 country hit came in 1973, but he remained vital as a touring artist and “Grand Ole Opry” attraction for the remainder of his years.
“It’s been a real honor to have been associated with the Opry for this period of time,” he said in an official biography. “It’s been my musical homeplace which I first started visiting as a teenager. Back then, I would regularly catch a Greyhound bus from North Carolina and dream of performing on the Opry.”
Many thanks to Peter Cooper who wrote this for the Newspaper the Tennessean. Read a longer version at the newspapers website by clicking here