George Hamilton IV, 77, a Grand Ole Opry member who was one of country music’s first international ambassadors, died Wednesday at a Nashville hospital after a heart attack, the Opry announced.
Hamilton had been an Opry member since 1960, when he made the switch from pop music to country. He worked with producer Chet Atkins on a number of hits and scored his first country No. 1 with “Abilene” in 1963.
Hamilton brought country music to the Soviet Union and recorded the first country album in eastern Europe. Over the years, he hosted country-themed television shows in Britain and Canada.
Born July 19, 1937, in Winston-Salem, N.C., Hamilton was a 19-year-old freshman at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill when he had his first hit in 1956 with the song “A Rose and a Baby Ruth.” Written by John D. Loudermilk, the record hit No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart.
Hamilton moved to Nashville, joined the Grand Ole Opry and recorded “Before This Day Ends,” considered his breakthrough hit. Then came “Abilene” in 1963, which stayed a month atop Billboard’s country singles chart.
In the mid-1960s, Hamilton rode the rising tide of folk music popularity, recording “Steel Rail Blues” and “Early Morning Rain,” both written by Gordon Lightfoot. He followed with “Urge for Going” by another Canadian, Joni Mitchell, in 1967. He last landed in Top 5 country-single territory in 1970 with “She’s a Little Bit Country.”
Times wire reports