Thursday, September 18, 2014
In a business populated by brash and outlandish stars, Mr. Hamilton traded on subtlety, gentility and decency. In the liner notes of his 1968 RCA album, "The Gentle Country Sound of George Hamilton IV," he wrote of a "quiet, beautiful musical revolution in the world of country music."
"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 songs about ' 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," a John song that rose to No. 6 on the all-genre Billboard Top 100 chart. He scored two more Top 40 hits before becoming what "Definitive Country" encyclopedia contributor Lesley-Anne called "the first pop artist to switch to country."
"This was a radical move for an established pop singer, at a time when rock 'n' roll was at its height and many country stars were trying to 'go pop,'" wrote.
For Mr. Hamilton, his 1959 entry into country music was a natural transition. He grew up in North Carolina, listening to " " stars Hank Williams, Hank Snow, Jimmy Dickens and Eddy Arnold. He joined the " " himself in February 1960, and 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 became infatuated with folk singer-songwriters, and in 1965 he became the first American recording artist to record a hit written by poetic Canadian songwriter Gordon . His 1966 "Steel Rail Blues" album featured songs penned by folk-leaning writers , Phil and John Hartford, and Mr. Hamilton became the most popular country music singer in Canada. He hosted a Canadian television show for six years and he recorded albums that crossed genres and borders. His 1967 version of "Urge For Going" also made him the first artist to record a song written by Joni Mitchell.
"George is a student and a good listener," Gordon told Dickerson, in a conversation recounted in the liner notes to the three-disc Bear Family Records collection "George Hamilton IV: My North Country Home." "He's just a kind, generous person. I just love the way that George did all my songs."
Politics and religion
Mr. Hamilton was the rare country star to actively support progressive politicians in the 1960s, and his abiding Christian faith led was the bedrock of his belief in civil rights and racial equality. In 1968, he and wife attended Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy's speech at Memorial Gym. Kennedy was late for the speech, and event organizer John asked Mr. Hamilton to entertain the assembled crowd.
"He said, 'Well, it just happens I have my guitar in my trunk,' " told a Vanderbilt Hustler reporter. Mr. Hamilton played for 45 minutes, and he considered "opening" for Kennedy a highlight of his musical career. 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."
Mr. Hamilton played a starring role in London's "International Festival of Country Music" in 1969, and he and Bill Anderson helped persuade the Country Music Association to present a Nashville version of that International Festival: The music city festival came to be known as Fan Fair and is now branded as the CMA Music Festival, Nashville's signature event. Mr. Hamilton also hosted numerous BBC television series.
In 1973, Mr. Hamilton completed what wrote was the "longest international concert tour in country music," performing 73 shows in three months. And 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.
Mr. Hamilton left the " " for five years, beginning in 1971, and by the time of his 1976 return he was known as country music's "International Ambassador." He was a passionate advocate for country music, and for his deeply held faith, frequently performing as part of Billy Christian crusades.
Mr. Hamilton's final Top 40 country hit came in 1973, but he remained vital as a touring artist and "Grand Ole " attraction for the remainder of his years. In the new century, he often gave backstage tours at the , providing visitors with firsthand stories about long-gone " " stars Patsy Cline, Roy Acuff and Ernest .
"It's been a real honor to have been associated with the for this period of time," he said in an official biography. "It's been my musical 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 ."
Posted by Michael Godin at 1:57 PM