I am terribly sad to report that George Hamilton IV has died.
The man known as "The International Ambassador of Country Music" died today (9/17) at St. Thomas Hospital in Nashville, four days after suffering a "serious" heart attack.
George Hege Hamilton IV (who is no relation to the actor George Hamilton) hailed from North Carolina, where he grew up around country music. In the mid-50's he made his first record, "A Rose and a Baby Ruth," which was written by "Johnny Dee" (better known as John D. Loudermilk, who is also a native of North Carolina). The success of that song allowed Hamilton to move to Nashville and sign with RCA Victor, where he had his greatest success.
Hamilton drew his material from the best songwriters around, including Harlan Howard (who wrote his 1961 hit "Three Steps to the Phone") and a young up-and-coming Canadian folk singer/songwriter named Gordon Lightfoot. Hamilton scored country hits with covers of Lightfoot's songs "Canadian Pacific," "Steel Rail Blues," and "Early Morning Rain." He also covered more Loudermilk songs, including the "Break My Mind" and 1963 tune that would prove to be his biggest hit, "Abilene." The song was #1 for a month on country charts and hit the pop top 15.
Not content to just tour for the U.S. country fans, Hamilton made numerous trips overseas, earning him the nickname "The International Ambassador of Country Music." He was the first U.S. country act to perform in the then-U.S.S.R. as well as then-Communist controlled Eastern Europe.
Hamilton joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1960, and performed regularly until this past weekend, when he was stricken by a heart attack.
Sadly the words that Harlan Howard wrote in "Three Steps to the Phone" have come true: "It's only eight steps to the door that you entered so many times, but you'll never walk in anymore."
George Hamilton IV, the International Ambassador of Country Music, was 77.