Grand Ole Opry star George Hamilton IV "The International Ambassador of Country Music" passed away late Wednesday afternoon at St. Thomas Midtown Hospital in Nashville, Tenn. with his family by his side. George IV suffered a serious heart attack last Saturday, September 13 and had been in critical condition. Funeral arrangements are not confirmed at this time. He had been an Opry member since February 1960 and was 77 years old.
George Hamilton IV had been a member of the Grand Ole Opry for more than 50 years. He traveled the world earning the unofficial title of “International Ambassador of Country Music.” Along with his title, George IV compiled an impressive list of firsts. He appeared at London’s first International Festival of Country Music (1969) and performed at the first international country music festivals in Sweden, Finland, Holland, Norway, and Germany. He became the first American country singer to appear in Russia and Czechoslovakia and the first American to record a studio album in Eastern Europe. George IV was also the first American country singer to have his own British TV series. He appeared in England’s first Country Music Summer Season show. In addition to numerous appearances on American television, he hosted his own Canadian TV series for six years.
When George IV transferred to American University in Washington, D.C., from the University of North Carolina in 1956, he combined his studies with regular appearances on Jimmy Dean’s local TV show. His music career took off in that year, when he scored a million-selling pop hit with “A Rose and a Baby Ruth.” Tours with such stars as Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent and the Everly Brothers followed. But one evening in 1960, while enjoying the Opry in the audience of the Ryman Auditorium, he decided to switch from pop to country, the first artist to make that transition.
With the assistance of producer Chet Atkins, George IV moved away from teen ballads and began a string of country hits that included “Before This Day Ends” in 1960 (the year he joined the Opry cast), followed by “Three Steps to the Phone” and “If You Don’t Know, I Ain’t Gonna Tell You.” In 1963, George IV scored his first No. 1 country hit, “Abilene,” which also returned him to the pop chart.
An artist of eclectic taste, George IV has covered the material of such folk-pop singers as Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and James Taylor. He also recorded several songs by Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot and worked extensively in Canada. From Canada, he ventured to Europe, New Zealand, South Africa, Hong Kong, Australia and the Holy Land, where he taped two TV specials.
In 1972, George IV returned with his family to North Carolina, where he hosted a TV series. The Hamilton’s moved back to Nashville in 1986, with George IV making regular Opry appearances while continuing to record and to travel abroad. In 2000 he published his biography, "George Hamilton IV: Ambassador of Country Music."