Country singer George Hamilton IV of Grand Ole Opry fame died of a heart attack Wednesday at the age of 77 after a more than 50-year career at the famous Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee, reported The Guardian.
Hamilton was one of the first artists to “go country” from pop music successfully, particularly during a time period where the opposite transformation was more common. George’s success was middling in the pop music arena, despite having a successful Billboard Top 6 pop hit with “A Rose and a Baby Ruth” in 1956. The song, however, was especially popular among country music fans, foreshadowing Hamilton’s future target market. Though perhaps the song just had mass appeal; 40 years later, it was covered by Marilyn Manson.
By 1960, George had begun performing regularly at the Grand Ole Opry, earning himself accolades from the local fan base and giving him enough national notoriety to score his first country top 40 hit “Before This Day Ends” in 1960, which he trailed with “Three Steps to the Phone (Millions of Miles)” (#9), “To You and Yours (From Me and Mine)” (#13), and “If You Don’t Know I Ain’t Gonna Tell You (#6).
However, it was with Hamilton’s greatest hit “Abilene” that he really became a country star — it was also his first song since his pop days to chart in the Billboard 100. Although George never scored another hit as big as “Abilene,” the song was given modern life when Clint Eastwood used it in his film A Perfect World and sparked a popular revival of the track.
George was often called the “International Ambassador of Country Music,” according to Rolling Stone. Hamilton not only toured the entirety of Europe, but was the first artist break the “Iron Curtain” and play in Russia, and Prague, Czechoslovakia. Partially because of his great pride for Scottish origins, George pushed heavily for the Wembley Stadium’s 1969 Festival of Country Music to spread country music to the U.K.
Although George took a break from the Grand Ole Opry during this time and focused on several other projects, the renowned concert hall was a part of Hamilton for the rest of his life. Up until his death, George continued to give tours and interact with excited visitors. In his biography, George Hamilton IV described how important the site was to him.
“The Opry is a walking, talking, living, singing museum. It’s not artifacts, it’s heart and souls.”
[Image via Tennessean]