George Hamilton IV, the country music legend who did a lot to give mainstream exposure to the genre at the beginning of his 50-year career, died yesterday at a hospital in Nashville. He was 77 years old. Hamilton was hospitalized after suffering a heart attack on Saturday.
Born and raised in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Hamilton began his career as something of a teen idol with his first hit “A Rose And Baby Ruth.” However, Hamilton had different ideas for his career and began working in earnest to break through as a country singer. His move towards a country-leaning sound was almost seamless, and Hamilton was granted membership into the Grand Ole Opry by 1960.
Over the course of his career, Hamilton made a considerable impact with singles like “Before This Day Ends” and “To You And Yours (From Me And Mine),” but none quite had the impact that “Abilene” had. Released in 1963, the album topped Billboard’s country charts for four weeks and cracked through to number 15 on the pop charts. The song remains a country staple, and it even got a second wind after it was featured in the 1993 Clint Eastwood film A Perfect World.
Throughout his career, Hamilton was active in developing an audience for American country music abroad. He helped organize the first International Festival of Country Music in London. He was also the first performer to play behind the Iron Curtain during the height of the Cold War, performing in Russia and Czechoslovakia.
Hamilton is survived by Adelaide Peyton, his wife of 56 years, and his children Peyton, Mary, and George V.