Interview with George Hamilton IV – The International Ambassador of Country Music
by Stan Silver for Country Music News International Magazine & Radio Show
Hello Mr. Hamilton and welcome to Mannheim, Germany. It’s great to meet you again and that you take your time before the show tonight here at the SAP Arena to do this interview. Tell me how it came about that you are referred to as “The InternationalAmbassador of Country Music”.
George Hamilton IV:
Well, that goes back quite a few years. In 1973 I was invited to be part of an international country music festival at Wembley Stadium in London by Mervyn Conn. Quite a big event with many international artists. And on that festival there was Jiri Brabec, a country singer from Prag performing with his band “The Country Beat”. He was one of the most popular country singer in the Czech Republic at that time and due to the political situation back then it surely wasn’t easy for him to come to the “West” to perform. But neither was it the other way around that an american country singer could just go to the “East”. After we got to know each other a bit Jiri Brabec came up with just that idea and invited me to perform with him and his band. It took all but a year and in 1974 I was invited to perform with Jiri Brabec & The Country Beat at the Sports Halle in Prag. Since I was a “No name” in the Czech Republic I was quite stunned that the place was packed with about 28.000 people. Of course most people did come mainly because of Jiri Brabec & The Country Beat. Of course it was a wonderful opportunity and a great honor to present myself to such a big and lovely audience. Well, the word got around all the way to Moskau that there’s this country boy from Nashville, Tennessee playing in Prag. So the folks from the American Embassy actually informed me that I was truly the 1st american country music singer to perform behind the “Iron Curtain”. I was asked to come to Moskau to do a lecture concert at the Moskau University for soviet students on the history of country music. Which I of course was more than happy to do. So, I went there with a whole bunch of cassette tapes and introduced artist like Charlie Pride, Chet Atkins, and Dolly Parton just to name a few, to the students. I also got to do solo acoustic performances for the “Railway Workers Institute” and played a show at the “Palace of Culture”. Coming back to England I was on BBC radio with DJ Mr. Bob Powel. As I was telling the story about my travel and experiences in Prag and Moskau he kind of jokingly said I deserve a titel and should be called: “The International Ambassador of Country Music”. Now Billboard Magazin picked up on that and actually gave me an award where they titeled me “The International Ambassador of Country Music” for taking country music behind the “Iron Curtain”. Now you know the story!
You mentioned being a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Maybe you could tell me a little bit about that. How do you become a member?
George Hamilton IV:
Yes, I’ve been a member of the Grand Ole Opry for 52 years. I joined on Febuary 6th 1960 to be exact. In late 1959 I moved to Nashville and was approached by the manager of the Grand Ole Opry Mr. Ott Devine. He invited me to do some guest spots there which is a great honor to be asked to do. What I didn’t know was that I was actually auditioning. After playing a few shows Mr. Devine came to me and told me that they believe I’m their kind of people and if I would like to be part of the family. That meant to be part of the cast of the Opry and on the list of the regular performers. It’s one of those things you don’t ask for – they invite! Besides my wife, Tink – short for Tinkerbell – country music is the love of my life and I feel blessed to be part of this great family of country musicians and “The Mother Church of Country Music” as we like to call the Grand Ole Opry.
Mr. Hamilton I want to thank you so much for sharing all this with us and I hope you enjoy your stay and you’ll come back to Germany soon.
George Hamilton IV:
Thank you for having me!