By: Kathy Aney
Sunday, September 06, 2009
Country singer Rodney Atkins is known for his fist-pumping feel-good songs, but inside him is a soft spot for kids who are going through hell.
Atkins, who sings in the Round-Up kick-off concert on Sept. 12, spotted one such kid as he sang at a concert in Madison, Wis., a couple of years ago.
Six-year-old Abby Niemuth, who watched from the first row with her parents, had no hair and wore a surgical mask.
"You could see her eyes just shining," Atkins said recently by phone to the East Oregonian. "I could see, under the mask, she was singing."
When Atkins invited her onstage, the little girl smiled and he helped her up. She nodded when he asked if she wanted to sing. Together, in front of 20,000 people, they sang "If You're Going Through Hell," a musical pep talk for people who face tough trials. After the concert, Atkins and Abby stayed in touch. The little girl attended other concerts and he sang to her on the telephone. Just before she died a year ago, Abby had been listening to Atkins' music.
"Her parents said I sang her into heaven," Atkins said.
Atkins' sensitivity to children in trouble may have arisen from his own heart-breaking beginnings as a sickly baby put up for adoption. Twice, adoptive parents returned the ailing infant to the Holston Methodist Home for Children in Greenville, Tenn., not able to deal with what Atkins called a stubborn respiratory staph infection.
Finally, Margaret and Allen Atkins adopted the little boy and nursed him to health.
These days, Atkins is spokesman for the National Adoption Council. Last month, the singer returned to Holston for a hero's welcome and the dedication of the new Rodney Atkins Youth Home on the Holston campus.
Holston's director referred to Atkins as "our poster boy for hope."
Atkins doesn't get too far away from his own children. He recorded vocals for his last two albums in tiny studio just off the kitchen at his home just outside of Nashville. The home studio cuts production costs and keeps him in the midst of the family circle.
"There are no engineers, just me," he said. "It's made me a better singer."
His son, Elijah, appears in some of Atkins' videos, including a feature role in "Watching You" when he was 4. Viewers of "It's America" will notice Elijah, now 7, manning a lemonade stand. Also appearing are his parents and step-daughters Lindsey and Morgan.
Atkins, who learned to play guitar in high school, started writing songs shortly thereafter. He said he loves to sing about "things that are real."
"I'm drawn to songs about real life," he said. "A lot of being human is the struggle."
Atkins, who prefers a ball cap to a cowboy hat, takes the stage Sept. 12 in the Happy Canyon arena in the 2009 kick-off concert. Opening for Atkins is Reckless Kelly, a Texas band with Bend roots.
Doors open at 6 p.m. and the concert starts at 7 p.m. Tickets run from $23 to $112, though the $112 tickets are sold out. Some limited-view tickets, which are close to the stage, but partially blocked and include dinner and drinks, are still available. For tickets, call the Round-Up ticket office at 276-2553 or 1-800-457-RODEO.