George Hamilton IV


Grand Ole Opry Star

George Hamilton IV

The Orange Blossom Opry
Saturday, January 17th, 2004



As his name suggests, George Hege Hamilton IV comes from a long line of Georges, though the first Hamilton to cross the atlantic was named Gavin. He left Scotland for America in 1685 for reasons which are not quite clear. George often remarks: "There is a rumour in the family that he was invited to leave for sheep stealing!"

By the time George IV came along on 19th July 1937, the Hamiltons were well established in North Carolina. The first George was a farmer while IV's grandfather came down from the mountains to work for the railroad. It was through him that young George first discovered country music. His father George, known as Hege, was vice president and manager of a company which made Goodies headache powders. The family which also included his mother, Mary Lilian and younger brother Cabot, lived in the town of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. This meant that George was never really a country boy.

He used to go to the cinema with his maternal grandmother on Saturdays and recalls that he was one of the few children who actually enjoyed the singing in the cowboy movies. As previously mentioned, his grandfather introduced him to country music via his old Jimmie Rodgers records and The Grand Ole Opry, to which they listened each weekend on the radio.

By the time he was twelve, George's fascination with country music had grown to the extent that he had not only bought his first guitar with money earned as a paper boy, but had also persuaded his parents to allow him to travel alone by bus to Nashville. There he met his all time hero Chet Atkins, of whom more later, as well as many more of his favourite country stars.

During his high school years he and his band would play at civic luncheons, parties and other social events where people would give them the opportunity to entertain. The knowledge that his singing gave audiences pleasure further encouraged him to pursue a career in country music.

George was brought up in a Christian home where church and Sunday school played a very important part in life, but his Moravian parents were far from repressive and supported their young son in his desire to join The Grand Ole Opry. Just in case his dreams did not come true, however, they urged him to complete his education. He entered the University of North Carolina as a freshman in 1955 then transferred to American University in Washington, DC a year later in order to combine his studies with regular appearances on the Jimmy Dean TV show. In the end, the difficult task of combining music and a degree proved too much and he did not graduate.

In the summer of 1956 a song he did not much care for changed George's life. For some time he had been trying to persuade the owner of Colonial Records to give him a recording contract. About the same time a young songwriter named John D. Loudermilk submitted a song to Mr Campbell entitled "A Rose And A Baby Ruth". Colonial's boss decided it was just right for George, who only agreed to record it on condition that he could put one of his own songs, a rockabilly number entitled "If You Don't Know I Ain't Gonna Tell You" on the B side. The single got a national release and before he knew it George had a top five hit and a million seller on his hands, as well as "a manager, an agent and a bunch of people telling me what to do".

Tours with such stars as Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent and the Everly Brothers followed in which George supplied the teen ballads.

In June 1958 and with his career as a pop star well established, George married his high school sweetheart Adelaide Peyton, known as Tinky because of her childhood fascination with Tinker Bell in Peter Pan. In late 1959 he took the brave step of turning his back on the music which had made him a star, by moving to Nashville where he made a conscious effort to achieve his ambition in the field of country music. Re-enter Chet Atkins, who not only got him signed to RCA where he was executive producer but was instrumental in having George invited to join The Grand Ole Opry, where he has been a member since 1960. The teen ballads like "High School Romance" and "Why Don't They Understand" were replaced by pure country material such as "Truck Drivin' Man" and "Abilene".

For the next few years George's life consisted of extensive touring, TV appearances and recording. On the domestic front, he and Tinky created a whole new generation of Hamiltons in the forms of sons Peyton and George V and daughter Mary.

The mid-60s found George associating with folk artists whose involvement with the civil rights movement did not always go down too well in conservative Nashville. Over thirty years on, this may not seem very daring but in those days it was quite unusual. About this time too he was falling under the influence of Canadian writers such as Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell and Ian and Sylvia. The release of "Canadian Pacific" in 1969 saw the dawn of a new era.

Appropriately, his highly successful Canadian TV shows were recorded in Hamilton, Ontario. He made several albums in Canada and won a Juno award for his services to Canadian country music.

Britain was to get its first visit from George in 1967 and we are delighted that he has been coming back regularly ever since. He performed at the first International Festival Of Country Music at Wembley in 1969 and appeared there more often than any other American artist. His many TV series for the BBC brought him to the attention of a wider audience, while his concert tours gained him yet more fans. When his Canadian TV shows were screened here on ITV at the same time as those on BBC, he made history by appearing on both channels at once. His 'neat' appearance, clear gentle vocals and warm friendly personality have always ensured him of a welcome in the UK.

An offer to join Arthur Smith's TV show in North Carolina in 1972 gave the Hamiltons the opportunity to return to their home state where, for the next fourteen years, they lived in the Charlotte area.

He earned his familiar title of "International Ambassador Of Country Music" when he became the first American country singer to perform in The Soviet Union and Prague. He insists that it all began as a joke with some of his British friends, but the ambassadorial tag is well deserved as nobody has done more to make country music accepted and respected than George IV

He has appeared in not only America, Canada, Britain and Ireland but Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Eastern Europe, Scandinavia and many other European countries. In 1993 he visited Jamaica and Africa while filming a documentary on the Moravian church. As well as being shown on TV in the States it was sold on video.

1986, Tennessee Homecoming Year, saw the Hamiltons returning to make their home near Franklin. Tinky took a post as a teacher at a nursery school while George continued to work at home and abroad, make albums and appear on the Opry.

On many of his tours in the UK he was backed by his own excellent band, The Numbers, but he is sufficiently versatile to work with other musicians including The Hillsiders, with whom he made an album called "Heritage" and the Stu Page band who gave him a stunning backing at the 1993 Americana Festival. Fellow North Carolinians The Moody Brothers have also appeared frequently with George, both at home and abroad. The two albums he made with them in their studio in Charlotte rate as some of his best recordings. "American Country Gothic" contained new material with a traditional feel while "Homegrown" which not only featured George and the Moody Brothers was co-produced by George V who sang some splendid duets with his father, as well as introducing us to some of his own songs. This album has recently been re-released on CD only.

As we said earlier, George was brought up in a Christian home but it wasn't until he visited Eastern Europe, where at that time being a Christian was far from easy, that gospel music began to play a large part in his life. In the mid-8Os he was a frequent guest singer with Dr. Billy Graham, working with his team in Alaska and Britain.

1988 saw the start of George's highly acclaimed church tours with "A Country Christmas" in which he tells the Christmas story in a delightful combination of scripture readings, poems, songs and recitations, all with a country flavour. "Easter In The Country" and "Thanksgiving In The Country" followed, each breathing new life into the Easter and American Thanksgiving themes.

The albums George recorded containing highlights from these concerts have a charm all their own. In recent years he has also added a church concert based on the life of the famous hymn writer Fanny Crosby and albums of her songs and those of Ira Sankey have been added to his gospel music catalogue. "Treasured Keepsakes" is an album of inspirational recitations. George's soft, southern accent is perfect for such material. It, like most of his other recent gospel albums, was produced by Paul Davis who organises George's church tours and who has recently written his authorised biography, "George Hamilton IV Ambassador Of Country Music", published by Harper Collins. It can be bought or ordered from all major book shops or from George on his tours. We are sure that all his friends and fans will want to read it.

Between September 1993 and June 1998 George was the narrator of "Patsy Cline - The Musical", which was yet another new venture for the ever innovative Mr Hamilton. Patsy was played by Irish songstress Sandy Kelly who made a magnificent job of portraying this mercurial but fascinating star. The fact that George knew Patsy well added authenticity to the whole thing. The show even had a West End run in 1994.

Sandy and George now work together on Sandy's own version of Patsy's life called "Patsy Cline - Music And Memories", which plays to theatres in Ireland and the UK. Sandy's band and sister Barbara Ellis make up the rest of the cast and the whole presentation is less formal than the original musical. George's work with Sandy on this show and the other country concerts they put on, has brought him to a new audience in both northern Ireland and Eire.

In the 90s, George returned to Canada to record two excellent albums produced by Broadland International's Gary Buck. "Canadian Country Gold And Unmined Treasures" contains fifteen tracks, only one of which, "The Farmer's Song", has been previously recorded by George. On this occasion he is joined by George V. The material has been carefully selected to suit not only George, but his many friends who join him on all but two of the tracks. An album of contemporary gospel songs, "High Country", was recorded for the same label. Having previously recorded three songs written by top British writer Charlie Landsborough, George showed his respect for this amazing crafter of songs by including two more on this album, "What Colour Is The Wind" and "My Forever Friend". Both these beautiful Broadland albums are still available.

Although he always appears relaxed and confident, George admits that he still gets nervous before a show. The nearest he ever gets to admitting he has a charismatic personality is: "When I feel good I can communicate with people". This rare ability manifests itself in many places from concerts given before thousands to small informal gatherings. Much of his work is unpaid and unpublicised. He can sometimes be found singing to hospital patients, those detained at Her Majesty's pleasure or residents in homes for the elderly. At the other end of the spectrum, he is equally at home with school children and is an honorary member of the board of governors of a primary school in Yorkshire where, after singing for the pupils, he signs autographs while joining them for school lunch. His willingness to give interviews to large and small organisations alike, as well as being available to the press, make him a firm favourite with the media. A genuine interest in his fans with whom he is happy to spend hours chatting, being photographed and signing autographs, make their often long journeys to see him well worth the effort.

When not working, George's interests include literature, poetry, art, music, sightseeing, history and going to the movies. On rare days off he can be found exploring not only tourist attractions but places of interest off the beaten track. Hiring a small car and driving himself round the country, he is able to wander around unrecognised most of the time.

It is difficult to believe that George celebrated forty years as an Opry member in the year 2000, for he is as full of enthusiasm for his work as always. Perhaps the secret is that "work is still fun" to him. He chose to celebrate his sixtieth birthday in Scotland, among friends but not on holiday! In typical Hamilton style he decided to put on a charity concert. The show raised money for local charities and George's family was well represented at the concert by Tinky, Mary and George V and his wife Lillian.

In 1999 George and Tinky paid a second visit to The Holy Land, where they helped to host a Christian holiday. The Millennium year was an eventful one for George and his family. The same weekend he celebrated his fortieth anniversary on the Opry, George V and Lillian presented him and Tinky with a grandson, officially George VI, known to his friends as Nash. Peyton and his wife Anne had already provided them with their first grandchild in the shape of Mac, born in 1993.

As if all that excitement were not enough, another surprise awaited the unsuspecting George in July the same year when he was acting as chauffeur and friend to the Duke and Duchess of Hamilton. There is a large and very active Hamilton clan society in America and George has taken a keen interest in it since becoming friendly with the Duke and his family. During the Highland Games at Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina, the Duke and Duchess were being made honorary citizens of the state. It was for this reason that George thought all his family had gathered. It was only when references to music and entertainment were being made that he began to wonder what was going on. The truth was that George was being inducted into the North Carolina Music And Entertainment Hall Of Fame. Since many consider him North Carolina's best export, this was a well deserved award.

In September 2000, George took on the role of escort and tour guide for our special fan club holiday to the USA. Joe and Jean Fish of Joe Fish Tours did all the hard work and I don't know how they fitted in everything we wanted to do, but they did and a lot more besides. George joined the tour after the first two days and was with us till we left for the airport to return home almost two weeks later. As Tom Gilmore put it: "It was like owning your private superstar for the trip". George is not only an expert on all matters country, but a keen historian, so the journeys were peppered with anecdotes and the occasional a capella rendition of an appropriate song. The tour took in the "Celebrating Patsy Cline" weekend in her home town of Winchester VA, as well as three days in the Smoky Mountains, where Dollywood was definitely the highlight.

The last five days were spent in Nashville where we did all the tourist things. Tinky even put on a picnic for all of us on the Sunday afternoon. You need to have a big heart to feed almost fifty people, most of whom you have never met, but Tinky and her friends took it all in their stride. This was also the opportunity for many of the holiday makers to get to know George V, Lillian and, of course, wee Nash.

This was yet another new venture for George and by all accounts he enjoyed it as much as we did. Perhaps it reminded him of his early days in Nashville when he and John D. Loudermilk started some of the first tours in Music City USA.

Bear Family Records of Germany thought highly enough of George to release a 6-CD box set of his early material entitled "To You And Yours From Me And Mine". This wonderful collection also includes some early previously unreleased demos and live recordings from his appearances on the Arthur Godfrey Talent Show and The Grand Ole Opry. A beautiful book accompanies the set, which gives a good insight into George's early life. Sadly the material only goes up to 1965. Perhaps it is time Bear Family brought out another set or two, to bring his career up to date.

2002 saw George adding two more new concerts to his repertoire. "Luke The Drifter - The Other Side Of Hank Williams" is the latest in a long line of Church based concerts, in which George tells the story of Hank Williams' early years and recites many of his poems (some serious, some amusing) as well as singing many familiar Williams songs.

"Welcome To My World - A Night At The Opry" sees George teaming up with Sandy Kelly, Barbara Ellis and the band again, with the addition of Matt Leavy, for an evening of songs made famous by Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynnette, Glen Campbell and Jim Reeves, with George acting as host. The show tours in the UK and Ireland.

And now he's coming to The Orange Blossom Opry !!


George Hamilton IV and Friends




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