George Hamilton IV, the International Ambassador of Country Music, died on Wednesday (Sept. 17) following a heart attack over the weekend. The 77-year-old will be remembered for his songs, his crossover from pop to country and for inspiring what fans know today as the CMA Music Festival.

‘Abilene,’ a John D. Loudermiilk co-written hit from 1963, is his best-known song, but Hamilton scored others with ‘Before This Day Ends,’ ‘Three Steps to the Phone’ and ‘She’s a Little Bit Country.’ The majority of his country radio success came between 1960 and 1973. In total he notched nine Top 10 hits during that span.

The Winston-Salem, N.C. born singer became a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1960. He soon became known for his international outreach. By recording songs from Canadian singer-songwriters like Gordon Lightfoot and Phil Ochs, he became extremely popular north of the border — he even hosted a Canadian television show for six years.

The seeds of Fan Fair (now the the CMA Music Festival) were sewn in 1969 when he performed at the London International Festival of Country Music. Shortly after that date, he and Bill Anderson helped persuade the Country Music Association to create a Nashville version.

Later he’d become the first country artist to perform behind the Iron Curtain. International touring was a priority — he even lectured on the history of country music while in Russia.

Hamilton’s music career began at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C. It was there he recorded a song called ‘A Rose and a Baby Ruth.' At the age of 22 he moved his family — including wife Adelaide — to Nashville to pursue country music. He remained active at the Opry and in international collaborations during his later years.

The North Carolina Music Hall of Famer suffered a heart attack on Saturday (Sept. 13). He leaves behind two sons and one daughter. George and Adelaide celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 2008.