George Hege Hamilton IV was born on this day in 1937, in Winston-Salem, to George “Hege” Hamilton III and Mary Lillian Hamilton.
From an early age, George loved country music, and listened to Jimmie Rodgers records and The Grand ‘Ole Opry on the radio. He was influenced by his grandfather who introduced George to this music.
George bought a guitar at age 12 with money he earned as a paper boy. He also traveled by bus to Nashville and met Chet Atkins and more of his favorite country stars.
George graduated from R. J. Reynolds High School in 1955. Beneath his senior photo in the yearbook were written these words, “Grand ‘Ole Opry – Here I Come!”
George and his friend, Henry H. Heitman Jr., had played for school dances and other social events since they were sophomores in high school. They attended the University of North Carolina together, and they made a record when they were freshmen. The record, with George singing and playing the guitar, Henry playing the bass, and two other musician accompanists, contained the songs “I’ve Got a Secret” and “Sam.”
The record was released in 1956, and the first pressings came to Winston-Salem. Orville Campbell was the promoter, and George and the band made many personal appearances to promote the record.
Also that summer, George recorded a song titled, “A Rose and a Baby Ruth,” written by John Loudermilk. George put one of his own composition on the other side of the record. The Loudermilk single reached the top five on the music charts, and George began touring with Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers. He also began to move away from his rockabilly music to more pure country music.
George transferred from UNC to American University so that he could attend college, and appear on the Jimmy Dean television show. But the demands of a growing musical career forced him to leave the school before he graduated.
George married his high school sweetheart, Adelaide Peyton, or “Tink,” in 1958 and they moved to Nashville. Chet Atkins helped George with obtaining an RCA recording contract and with his invitation to join the Grand ‘Ole Opry in 1960.
Over the years George has traveled the world, and recorded many songs, such as “Truck Drivin’ Man” and “Abilene.”
He worked for a while in England and in Canada, then returned to the United States to appear on Arthur Smith’s television show. He earned the title, “International Ambassador of Country Music,” when he became the first American country singer to perform in the Soviet Union and Prague.
George has appeared with many groups, such as The Moody Brothers, and he was a guest singer with Dr. Billy Graham. He has been part of many special tours, such as “A Country Christmas,” and “Patsy Cline – The Musical.”
George and his family celebrated the 50th anniversary of his time in show business in 2006, and the 50th anniversary of his joining the Grand ‘Ole Opry in 2010. George made this comment about his anniversary, “It’s been an honor to have been associated with The Opry for this period of time. It’s been my musical homeplace which I first started visiting as a teenager. Back then I would regularly catch a Greyhound bus from North Carolina and dream of performing on The Opry. But never, in my wildest dreams, did I ever think that one day I would be celebrating 50 years as a member of The Grand ‘Ole Opry.”
Even as George IV turned 70 years old, he was touring and performing. George’s musical legacy is being continued by son, George V, who is a singer and composer also, and by George VI (Nash), at least in name for now.
George was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in 2010. He passed away on September 17, 2014.
A bridge on Interstate 40 over Salem Avenue was dedicated the George Hamilton IV Bridge on July 19, 2016.
Black and white photo courtesy of Forsyth County Public Library Photograph Collection. Current photos by Molly Grogan Rawls.