George Hamilton IV
Hamilton was born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, on July 19, 1937. While a 19-year-old student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Hamilton recorded “A Rose and a Baby Ruth” for a Chapel Hill record label, Colonial Records. The song, written by John D. Loudermilk, climbed to No. 6 on the United States Billboard Hot 100 chart. By 1960, “A Rose and a Baby Ruth” had attained gold record status for ABC-Paramount (which had acquired the song from Colonial). The self-penned B-side of the record, “If You Don’t Know”, revealed Hamilton’s ambitions to be a rockabilly-country singer. In late 1959, Hamilton moved his family to Nashville, Tennessee to further his work as a country musician. On February 8, 1960, Hamilton officially became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Later that same year, he began recording for RCA Records, having been signed by Chet Atkins. In the UK he was less successful, with his biggest hit being “I Know Where I’m Going” in 1958. In 1984 he appeared with Billy Graham on his UK tour ‘Mission England’ and made other appearances as a solo performer in venues around the UK at this time.
Hamilton’s breakthrough hit was the 1961 song “Before this Day Ends”. His biggest hit came two years later with “Abilene”, another song penned by Loudermilk and Bob Gibson. The song spent four weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s country singles chart and reached the Top 20 of the Hot 100. The success of “Abilene” was followed with the song “Fort Worth, Dallas Or Houston” (a Top 5 hit in late 1964).
By the mid-1960s, Hamilton’s music began showing a decidedly folk influence. This was especially evident with 1966’s “Steel Rail Blues” and “Early Morning Rain” (both by Gordon Lightfoot), and 1967’s “Urge for Going” by Joni Mitchell. Another 1967 hit was “Break My Mind” (by John D. Loudermilk). One more Hamilton song of this genre was a moderate hit in 1969—the Ray Griff-penned “Canadian Pacific”. His last Top 5 single came in 1970, with “She’s a Little Bit Country”.
After his American chart success declined in the early 1970s, Hamilton began touring the world, across the Soviet Union, Poland, Australia, the Middle East and East Asia. These widely acclaimed international performances earned Hamilton the nickname The International Ambassador of Country Music. He also hosted several successful television programs in the UK and Canada during the 1970s, and in the 1990s he played himself in the West End musical Patsy, based on the life of Patsy Cline.
In 2004, he recorded an acoustic gospel album with producer Dave Moody titled On a Blue Ridge Sunday which earned Hamilton a Dove Award nomination in the “Best Bluegrass Album of the Year” category by the members of the Gospel Music Association. A single from the album, “Little Mountain Church House”, won nominee recognition in the “Best Bluegrass Recorded Song” category the following year.
Until recently, Hamilton was a regular at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville and in country shows throughout the U.S. and the UK. He mainly concentrated on gospel tours both at home and abroad. In 2007 he collaborated with Live Issue, a group from Northern Ireland, to record a live album based on the life of Joseph Scriven, who wrote the hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”. The two also toured together again in 2009. That same year, Hamilton released a parody of his classic hit “Abilene” in the height of the soaring U.S. gas prices called “Gasoline”. He was also a regular participant in the Country’s Family Reunion video series.
In 2010, Lamon Records released the album Old Fashioned Hymns, recorded transatlantic with producers Dave Moody in Nashville and Colin Elliott in Ireland. Hamilton was joined on the 28-track collection by a number of musical guests, including Ricky Skaggs, Marty Stuart, Gail Davies, Pat Boone, Del McCoury, Bill Anderson, Connie Smith, Tommy Cash, Cliff Barrows, George Beverly Shea and many others.
Hamilton had a heart attack on September 13, 2014, and died on September 17 at Saint Thomas Midtown Hospital in Nashville. On September 24th, the Ryman Auditorium hosted a memorial service which include performances by Marty Stewart, Ricky Skaggs, The Whites, Jett Williams, Gail Davies, Connie Smith, Dave Moody, Jimmy Capps, Barry and Holly Tashian, The Babcocks, Andrew Greer and Cindy Morgan. English music historian and journalist Tony Byworth, music writer and author Frye Galliard, artists and songwriters John D. Loudermilk and Bill Anderson, Grand Ole Opry general manager Pete Fisher, and WSM announcer Eddie Stubbs all shared stories of Hamilton’s life and career during the memorial. The service concluded with “Amazing Grace” performed on bagpipes by Nashville Pipes and Drums Pipe Sergeant David Goodman.