George Hamilton IV, a respected 'Grand Ole Opry' star,
has died at the age of 77 after suffering a heart attack.
Hamilton grew up in North Carolina listening to Hank Williams but his
first success was as a pop singer, with the million-selling
A Rose and a Baby Ruth in 1956. He switched to singing country music
in 1959 and joined the Opry a year later after being signed to RCA Victor by
the guitar maestro Chet Atkins.
He was soon racking up top 10 hits, including
Before This Day Ends, Three Steps to the Phone (Millions of Miles) and
If You Don't Know I Ain't Gonna Tell You.
His biggest hit came in 1963, with Abilene, a tribute to a Kansas town.
George Hamilton IV was always interested in recording songs by talented
young folk musicians and among the people whose music he recorded were
Gordon Lightfoot, Phil Ochs and John Hartford. "I just love
the way that George did all my songs," said Lightfoot. Hamilton was
popular in Canada, where he had a television series and his 1967 version of
Urge For Going reportedly made him the first musician to record a song
written by Joni Mitchell.
He was a political liberal and supported racial equality. He once entertained the crowd before
a rally by Democratic presidential candidate Robert F Kennedy and toured in Russia
in 1974. He was also a staunch Christian and frequently performed as part
of Dr. Billy Graham's Christian crusades.
Hamilton was a frequent visitor to the UK – he played a starring role in London's
International Festival of Country Music in 1969 – and told The Tennessean in 2012:
"This music we call American country music had its cradle days in the British
Isles. It sprang from the folk songs and ballads of the Celtic areas and
came over with the Pilgrims and early settlers. It had its childhood in the
Blue Ridge Mountains, and it came of age in Nashville."
He was a regular visitor to Scotland, and in 2004 produced an album of songs
called Hamilton's Other Country. Hamilton was among the first American artists
to cover the 1977 Wings hit Mull of Kintyre, but proceedings at the recording
studio in Nashville were delayed briefly when one of the backing musicians queried:
“Hey, isn’t there a mistake here? Shouldn’t this be Mule of Kintyre?”
Hamilton's final Top 40 country hit came in 1973 and he became more interested in
singing gospel music. But he remained interested in country music and often gave
backstage tours at the Opry.
In the Nineties, he did some theatre work, playing the narrator in a production
of Pasty Cline The Musical for five years, including a run
in London's West End.
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