George Hamilton IV, 1937-2014

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Monday 22nd September 2014

Country crooner George Hamilton IV dies in Nashville aged 77

COUNTRY music star George Hamilton IV died in Nashville on 17th September. He was 77. Widely known as "the international ambassador of country music," Hamilton toured the world and his songs "Abilene" and "Before This Day Ends" were major best-sellers. George was born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina on 19th July 1937. As a 19 year old student he recorded the pop song "A Rose And A Baby Ruth" which reached number six on Billboard's Hot 100 and ensured that he toured with many of the stars of rock and roll. In 1959 Hamilton moved his family to Nashville, Tennessee to further his ambition to become a country star. The following year he was to play at the legendary Grand Ole Opry.

Hamilton went on to appear at the Opry dozens of times over the next 50 years. He also began touring other countries, becoming particularly popular in Canada where he recorded songs by Canadian writers. Several of his songs reached number one on the country charts in Canada. His biggest hit was 1963's "Abilene" which reached number one on the country charts. Other hits included "Before This Day Ends", "Steel Rail Blues" and "Early Morning Rain", one of several compositions by the Canadian folk singer Gordon Lightfoot that he recorded. "Canadian Pacific", written by the Canadian singer/songwriter Ray Griff, reached number one in Canada in 1969. His last big hit, from 1970, was "She's A Little Bit Country", a number three country hit in the United States.

A man of strong Christian faith, Hamilton recorded several gospel albums and played at crusades led by the Rev Billy Graham. He was one of the first artists in any genre to record the music of Joni Mitchell. He hosted country music television shows overseas, in Canada and in his native North Carolina. 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 US and the UK. He mainly concentrated on gospel tours both at home and abroad. In 2007 he collaborated with Northern Ireland's country gospel group Live Issue to record a live album based on the life of Joseph Scriven, who wrote the hymn "What A Friend We Have In Jesus". The pairing also toured together again in 2009. That same year, Hamilton released a parody of his classic hit "Abilene" in the height of the soaring US 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, Connie Smith and George Beverly Shea.

Hamilton suffered a heart attack on 13th September and died four days later at Saint Thomas Midtown Hospital in Nashville. Survivors include his son George V, a singer with whom he toured, and a grandson, George VI. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.

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