It was weeks before Corbette Jackson heard his own song on the radio, but not because “Heart of a Champion” wasn’t getting plenty of airtime. The nineteen-year-old Newnan native—who still has the bashful Ashton Kutcher smile and linebacker shoulders of a high school athlete—and his manager, Stokes Nielson, have been traipsing across Georgia in Jackson’s black F-150, meeting with radio stations. The rousing ballad became Kicks 101.5’s most requested—four days after it was mixed in the studio. It made 94.9 The Bull’s Top 5 at 5. Within weeks, it was a country hit on iTunes, but Jackson won’t keep a cent of download sales. Profits go to a fund for Chris Landreau, a Newnan firefighter battling stage four non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Jackson—a former American Idol contestant (he originally competed using his first name, Alan, rather than his middle name, Corbette) and newly signed artist with Nielson, who’s best known for his group the Lost Trailers—had just finished a concert in Carrollton when a high school friend texted asking for help. Would Jackson sing at a benefit to support her twenty-six-year-old brother’s young family, who were facing a dire prognosis? The doctor, she texted, said he has the heart of a champion.
Jackson couldn’t get her words out of his mind. The next day, he and Nielson sat on the studio floor and wrote the song in just forty minutes. “It’s almost like you didn’t even write it,” Jackson recalls. “It just came out.” Days later, Jackson met the Landreaus for the first time.
The two men talk often now—Chris on chemo, Jackson on tour. Both seem stunned by their story’s impact. Says Jackson, “It’s an undescribable feeling when you get onstage and you see the people singing back your music.”
Photograph by Jacqueline Pilar