Introduction to Roy Hamilton
Roy Hamilton was an American singer best know for his versions of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and “Unchained Melody”. Hamilton had a formal voice training, and was once a member of The Searchlight Singers. His rendition of “Unchained Melody” at an amateur singing contest in New York City’s Apollo Theater emerged victorious, but Hamilton had to wait for a while before he was discovered at a New Jersey club in 1953 by a disc jockey named Bill Cook (who would become Hamiton’s manager). His versatility made Columbia Records to sign Hamilton into its subsidiary label, Epic. From then Hamilton appealed to both R&B and pop music fans through his hits “If I Loved You So,” “Ebb Tide, “Hurt,” “Unchained Melody,” “Don’t Let Go,” “You Can Have Her” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone” – making him a major star. His career declined in the 1960s, and after a semi-retirement he surfaced on the recording scene, but without much further success. Hamilton died in 1969 of stroke, aged only 40.
Early life: Hamilton as a boxer, gospel singer and Apollo Theater contest winner
Roy Hamilton was a singer who churned out many R&B and pop hits. He was born on Leesburg, Georgia on April 16, 1929, and moved to Jersey City, New Jersey during his teens. Hamilton would go on to study formal (operatic and classical) voice training.
In 1947 he joined and won an amateur at the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York, by singing his rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” He pursued a career as a heavyweight Golden Gloves boxer before becoming a member of the gospel group The Searchlight Singers, in 1948.
Roy Hamilton’s recording career
Despite his rousing Apollo victory, a path for a commercial recording career had yet to arrive until one day in 1953. While Hamilton was singing in a New Jersey club, he was discovered by radio disc jockey Bill Cook, who eventually became his manager. Cook then brought him to Columbia Records, who saw a potential in Hamilton as a crossover artist because of his immense and versatile vocal talent.
First #1 hit with “You’ll Never Walk Alone”
Columbia signed Hamilton to its subsidiary label Epic. His first charting single was “Hurt,” which became a Top 10 R&B hit at #8 in 1954. He scored another R&B hit with “If I Loved You,” (at #4), and then his first #1 smash “You’ll Never Walk Alone” the same year.
Biggest crossover hit with “Unchained Melody”
In 1955 he scored another Top 10 R&B hit “Forgive This Fool” (at #10) and his first crossover smash “Unchained Melody” (#6 pop, #1 R&B), exactly a decade before The Righteous Brothers recorded a more well-known version of the song.
Hamilton’s early retirement, comeback and final years
In 1956 Hamilton announced that he was retiring because of exhaustion tuberculosis. However, he made a comeback the following year. In his return, he embraced his older gospel sound to go head-in-head with rock and roll and the newer soul sound, of course with his characteristic booming voice. Hamilton appeared on the rock and roll film Let’s Rock, which starred crooner Julius LaRosa.
Hamilton scored other hits: “Don’t Let Go” (#13 pop, #2 R&B), “Pledging My Love,” (#5 pop), “Ebb Tide” (#105 pop, #5 R&B), and “You Can Have Her.” (#12 pop, #6 R&B). His last charting single was “Let Go” in 1963. His final recordings were done in Memphis, Tennessee, and the tracks recorded from the session included “The Dark End of the Street”, (James Carr) “It’s Only Make Believe” (Conway Twitty), and “Angelica”, a Mann-Weil song originally intended for Elvis Presley.
Hamilton, at only 40 years old, succumbed to a stroke in New Rochelle, New York on July 20, 1969. In recognition of his contributions to music, the Georgia Music Hall of Fame inducted him in 2010.