Atkins Says Adoptive Family Inspires Him

Rodney Atkins' song "It's America" sits at the top of the Billboard Country Singles chart this week. It's a song that depicts some of the inspiring things about the United States.

Atkins' own story might be one of them.

Born in Knoxville, Atkins was put up for adoption and placed in the Holston Methodist Home for Children in Greeneville. Two couples took him home, but returned him because he was so sick.

"I had a respiratory staph infection and I think I was colicky, which I'm sure was a lovely sound to be hearing," says Atkins from his home in Nashville.

Allan and Margaret Atkins, though, were determined. They adopted Rodney and nursed him back to health.

The Atkins family moved around quite a bit before settling in Claiborne County. Rodney went from a sickly baby to a healthy kid who was always singing.

"I always used to love to sing, and they would laugh at me doing chores, cutting kindling or whatever," says Atkins. "I would be out there singing at the top of my lungs."

Atkins says he can remember being six or seven, listening to Charlie Daniels on the radio, and then asking his parents "'How do you get to do this?"

"They didn't really know, because it seemed like some farfetched dream," says Atkins.

In high school, Atkins began playing guitar and writing songs. He continued the hobby while attending Walters State Community College and then Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville.

In Cookeville, he found friends who were also interested in song writing.

"I was just hanging out with friends and just for grins one night drove to Nashville to a writers' night to see what that was like."

Atkins ended up on stage performing some of his songs. The crowd reaction encouraged Atkins to continue writing.

"I just kept chipping away at it and got some interest from publishing companies."

In 1997, Atkins signed with Curb Records, but it wasn't until 2003's "Honesty (Write Me a List)" that Atkins earned his first Top 10 country hit. In 2006, he had his first country No. 1 with "If You're Going Through Hell (Before the Devil Even Knows)." He has since had four other songs reach the top slot and had a very successful concert career.

He says a show in Greeneville four years ago proved to be special.

"When we showed up somebody said 'This fella over here wants to see you.' I went over and there was an older man named Charles Hutchins and he grabbed me by the face and said 'Son, I'm that man who put you in your mama's hands.'"

After that meeting Atkins began doing charitable work for the Holston Methodist Home for Children.

Later, when Atkins performed a show in Washington, D.C., he was approached by representatives from the National Council on Adoption who had read a story about Atkins in the magazine Guideposts. Atkins agreed to become a national spokesperson for the organization.

"It's been incredible," says Atkins. "I got to play at the White House on National Adoption Day."

Married to his wife, Tammy Jo, for more than a decade, Atkins is father to a 7-year-old son and two teenage stepdaughters.

His own upbringing has given him a good start on what it takes to be a good parent.

"With my dad, he was working like crazy, but he would still go outside and play baseball with me. It's important to let your kids see you be silly. Take a Little Debbie and smear it on your face - just being goofy. That's the stuff they remember. My parents were very generous, very kind. They were always thinking of other people. That stuff sticks with you."

And, he says, being a biological parent is not the most important thing.

"In being adopted and knowing how my parents dealt with me, you know - love is thicker than blood."