It was February 6, 1960, 52 years ago today that George Hamilton IV became a member of the Grand Ole Opry.
George was born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina on July 19, 1937. Although he began his career as a teen idol with the pop hit "A Rose and a Baby Ruth," he was one of the first pop singers to switch to country music, and he broadened country's appeal with his recordings of American and Canadian folk music.
In 1956, as a freshman at the University of North Carolina, he recorded "A Rose and a Baby Ruth" on Colonial, a small local label. By the way, the song was written by the great John D. Loudermilk. ABC-Paramount records bought the master, and it became the label's first million-selling record. Hamilton then began touring with such pop music stars as Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers. He also was making some national television appearances.
In the late 1950s, he was a regular on Connie B. Gay's Town & Country radio and television shows in Washington, D.C., starring Jimmy Dean and featuring Patsy Cline. He also had a TV show of his own in the late 1950s. He then moved to Nashville and began recording country music for RCA Records in 1960. In 1963, "Abilene" was a #1 country hit and a top 20 pop hit. In the mid-1960s, he met Canadian singer Gordon Lightfoot and was introduced into the Canadian folk music circles, recording such hits as "Early Morning Rain."
Since the mid 1970s, Hamilton has recorded a number of folk/country/gospel albums, including several with his son, George Hamilton V. Also in the mid 1970s, he hosted his own country music television series in Canada and in the United Kingdom and was also one of the first performers to appear behind the Iron Curtain and in the Soviet Union.
His popularity overseas is so great that it has earned him the title of International Ambassador of Country Music. He still spends a great amount of time touring in such places and England and Ireland.
Here is how George remembered his first visit to Nashville and the Opry:
"I was one of those guys who grew up as a fan of the Opry. Although I was born in Winston-Salem, and was a 'suburban hillbilly', my granddaddy Hamilton was a real mountain man out of Beaver Creek, Ashe County, North Carolina, who came to Winston-Salem to work on the railroad. My earliest memories of country music were sitting on my granddaddy's knee and listening to the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday night. It was a magical, wonderful fairyland in the sky to me, like the air castle of the South, you know. We'll, when I was about twelve or thirteen years old my parents let me catch the Greyhound bus and go to Nashville; I had saved my money from my paper route. I stayed at the YMCA, across from the old National Life building, and I got me a room on the corner where I could look down and see Red Foley and Ernest Tubb and all my heroes going into the National Life building to rehearse 'The Prince Albert Show' on Saturday morning. When I saw them go in, I ran across the street and went up to the fifth floor, where I knew the rehearsal would be held; I was a real backstage spook. And when I got up there, there was Chet Atkins leaning against the wall. I was so thrilled. And I walked up and said, 'Mr. Atkins, my name is George Hamilton. I'm from North Carolina and I just think you're great.' He just sort of yawned in my face and I thought, 'Man, this is the rudest guy I ever met.' I didn't realize how very shy he was, how unassuming. Anyway, I went away with my feelings hurt because I was so disillusioned. A little later in the morning I was watching the rehearsal and I heard somebody say, 'Hey, kid.' And I turned around and it was Chet. And I said, 'Yes, sir?' And he said, 'I'm gonna get a haircut. You wanna go with me?' So we went down to the Hermitage Hotel barbershop and I went in and watched him get a haircut. He didn't say three words to me, but it was just such a nice gesture. He realized that I was a hopeless fan and although he wasn't a backslapper and glad-hander and a loud-personality kind of guy, in his own quiet way he took me under his wing. After the haircut, we were walking back to the National Life building and he said, 'George, would you like to come backstage at the Opry tonight?' and I said, 'Are you kidding? I'd love to.' He said, 'We'll, meet me back in the alley there' And Chet took me backstage and introduced me to Hank Snow-I still got Hank's guitar pick that he gave me that night-and to Ernest Tubb. All those people were so kind to me; I didn't have anything to offer them, but they were so good to me. And Chet stands out in my mind because my first impression was that he was a cold fish, and he turned out to be the warmest of them all."
I will tell you from having met George Hamilton that he is one of the nicest people you will ever meet. He is very unassuming and is someone that you can have a fine conversation with. And his voice sounds as great today as it ever has. He just released a new recording of Hank Williams' gospel songs.
On February 6, 2010, George was honored at the Opry for 50 years of membership. I was there that night and it was a great evening. Here is the Opry's line up from that night:
7:00: Bass Pro Shops
Jimmy Dickens (host); Jeannie Seely; Chris Young
7:30: Cracker Barrel
Mike Snider (host); Jean Shepard; George Hamilton IV
Jim Ed Brown (host); Jimmy C Newman; Sandi Patty; Opry Square Dancers
8:30: Dollar General
Bill Anderson (host); Jesse McReynolds & the Virginia Boys; Oak Ridge Boys
Congratulations to George Hamilton IV