George Hamilton IV
Born and raised in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, George Hamilton IV grew up listening to country music on the Saturday evening Grand Ole Opry broadcasts. Like the performers honored in The Charlotte Country Music Story, Hamilton comes from a tradition of “down home” music. He says, “My people were originally farmers from the mountains. Their heritage was mountain music—string bands, fiddles, and the like. It seemed the natural thing to do to learn to play an instrument and sing.” He remembers listening to his grandfather’s records of Jimmie Rodgers, and watching the cowboy matinees starring Tex Ritter and Gene Autry.
Hamilton belongs to a younger generation of country performers than the WBT radio musicians. By the time he made his 1956 debut, television was rapidly replacing radio as the most popular entertainment medium; he got his start on WMAL-TV in Washington, D.C., on Jimmy Dean’s Country Showcase, rather than on a radio program. Early in his career, he produced several pop music hits, such as A Rose and a Baby Ruth and Break My Mind, but soon returned to his North Carolina country roots with the country classic Abilene and She’s A Little Bit Country.
Because of his talent and dedication to country music he became a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1960. Yet, he found his greatest popularity in Canada, Europe, and Great Britain. He has had a long-running weekly television show in Canada, number one records in England and Australia, and fans as far away as Hong Kong. His extensive overseas touring schedule and a concert in Moscow earned him the title of International Ambassador of Country Music from Billboard in 1974.
Hamilton blends the traditional country music of his youth with the gentle sounds of the folk revival musicians of the 1960s and 1970s. With his warm voice and fine musicianship, he has introduced many new songs and song writers to country music audiences. Like the early radio stars of WBT, Hamilton comes from a background rich in gospel music and he has recorded several gospel albums. In the last several years he has worked as a guest soloist on Rev. Billy Graham’s Crusades, both here and abroad.
In 1972, after years of extensive touring, Hamilton returned to North Carolina to settle in Matthews, outside Charlotte, and work with Arthur Smith on his syndicated television series. Today in 1985 he continues to tour, record, and perform and is one of country music’s best-loved stars and most articulate spokesmen.
— from George Holt, ed., The Charlotte Country Music Story (Spirit Square Arts Center and North Carolina Arts Council, 1985)
George Hamilton IV died in Nashville on September 17, 2014. There are many CDs available. A loving collection of his early teen-idol releases was issued by the German label Bear Family in 2009: The Drugstore’s Rockin’ – To You and Yours: George Hamilton IV. His papers are deposited at University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
Musicians who took part in the Charlotte Country Music Story concerts
Briarhoppers and Charles Crutchfield
Joe and Janette Carter
George Hamilton IV
Snuffy Jenkins and Homer “Pappy” Sherrill
Johnson Family Singers and Betty Johnson
Zeke and Wiley Morris
Red Clay Ramblers
Tennessee Ramblers with Cecil Campbell and Harry Blair
Charlotte/Rock Hill Recordings available on CD (36 page pdf)