Wednesday 17 January 2018

Obituary: George Hamilton IV, country music star

Popular country star whose hit shows included 'An Irish Country Christmas'

Good natured air: George Hamilton IV
Good natured air: George Hamilton IV

GEORGE HAMILTON IV, who has died aged 77, was a country music star with a relaxed easy-listening style, fusing folk and rockabilly, which charmed TV audiences in a popular series of shows in the 1970s.

Although he had his biggest mainstream American hit record in 1963 with Abilene, it was his appearance at the first International Festival of Country Music at Wembley, in 1969, that confirmed his appeal on this side of the Atlantic. The BBC recorded Hamilton's set, and after screening it on television, recorded a further nine specials broadcast the following year.

Hamilton was then signed for a 13-week series of BBC television specials called George the Fourth, recorded at the Nashville Room country music venue in London.

Viewers liked Hamilton's good-natured air, clean-cut, neat appearance, clear, gentle vocals, enunciated in a soft southern accent, and warm personality, all of which ran counter to the prevailing excesses of the British pop scene. Further television series followed, notably George Hamilton IV and Other Folk (1973-74).

Between 1960 and 1978, he charted 40 songs on the American Billboard's country chart, and in the early 1970s, was created International Ambassador of Country Music, having been the first country singer to perform in the Soviet Union and Prague.

Embracing gospel music in the 1980s, Hamilton embarked on a series of church tours. His penultimate album, released in 2010, was called, simply, Old Fashioned Hymns.

Hamilton was among the first American artists to cover the 1977 Wings hit Mull of Kintyre, but proceedings at the recording studio in Nashville were delayed briefly when one of the backing musicians queried: "Hey, isn't there a mistake here? Shouldn't this be Mule of Kintyre?"

George Hege Hamilton IV was born on July 19, 1937, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He was descended from a Scottish forebear, Gavin Hamilton, who arrived in America in 1685 having - according to family legend - been caught stealing sheep. Of the three ancestral Georges in the family, the first was a farmer, the second worked for the railway and the third ran a company making headache powders.

Young George's grandfather introduced him to country music by playing his old Jimmie Rodgers records and listening to The Grand Ole Opry each weekend on the radio. Having bought his first guitar with money from a paper round, George IV took a bus to Nashville and met the country music star Chet Atkins, who would become his mentor.

From high school, where he played in a band, he enrolled at the University of North Carolina in 1955, transferring to American University in Washington DC a year later so that he could combine his studies with TV appearances on The Jimmy Dean Show. Eventually, however, juggling the two commitments proved too difficult and he did not graduate.

In 1956, he released his first record and subsequently toured with the stars, including Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent and the Everly Brothers, and in 1958, he married his high school sweetheart, Adelaide "Tinky" Peyton.

Moving away from teen pop ballads, Hamilton concentrated on a purely country repertoire. Chet Atkins persuaded RCA to sign him to a record contract, and in 1960, he joined The Grand Ole Opry.

In the 1980s, Hamilton was a frequent guest singer with the evangelist Dr Billy Graham, appearing with his team in Alaska and Britain, and in 1988, he made the first of his church tours with A Country Christmas, telling the nativity story through scripture readings, poems, country songs and recitations.

Hamilton appeared as the narrator in Patsy Cline - The Musical, starring the Irish singer Sandy Kelly as the mercurial country star, which played in the West End in 1994. Hamilton and Sandy Kelly collaborated on another stage show about Patsy Cline, which toured theatres in Britain and Ireland.

Hamilton also performed at small informal gatherings, often unpaid and unpublicised, in hospitals, prisons and care homes. He was an honorary governor at Kirk Sandall Junior School in Doncaster where, after singing for the pupils, he joined them for lunch in the school canteen.

He was proud of his Scottish heritage, acting as chauffeur and friend to the Duke and Duchess of Hamilton during a gathering of the Hamilton clan at the Highland Games, in North Carolina, in 1999. In 2004, he recorded an album of Scottish songs, Hamilton's Other Country, and released a live album of Christmas songs, Christmas In England, later the same year.

Hamilton also toured Britain and Ireland with a show based on the hit songs of Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynnette, Glen Campbell and Jim Reeves, and attracted packed houses when he hosted An Irish Country Christmas, a version of his Christmas church concerts, at theatres across Ireland.

When Hamilton celebrated 50 years in show business in 2006, he was guest of honour at the American ambassador's residence in Regent's Park, London, before embarking on a month-long tour with British country music star, Tony Goodacre, under the banner '100 Years In Country Music'.

George Hamilton is survived by his wife, their daughter and two sons, one of whom is George Hamilton V, and a grandson, George VI.

Sunday Independent

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