NEWNAN, Ga. -- Alan and Denise Jackson returned Tuesday (April 29) to the town where their love story began at a Dairy Queen one Sunday after church.
Denise had so many great stories to share, she wrote a book, It's All About Him, and it quickly became a bestseller in 2007. The recent release of her second book, The Road Home, and his latest album, Good Time, led the couple back to their hometown for an autograph session at a local bookstore. While in town, they were also honored with a special award at a performing arts center.
After visiting their mamas and grabbing lunch at local lunch hotspot, the Redneck Gourmet, the Jacksons headed to Scott's Bookstore for a book and CD signing. It was no fluke that the signing took place in the quaint, locally-owned store in the heart of downtown Newnan. Earlene Scott opened the store in 1976 and has known the couple since they were children. Alan once worked at a shoe shop and Denise at a jewelry store just down the street from the bookstore.
The typically laidback hub for book lovers was transformed into a sea of Jackson fans from throughout the South and beyond who began lining up before sunrise for the 2 p.m. appearance.
This was Denise's second book signing at the store, but it was the first to include her husband. Quick to set the record straight when asked why he was joining her for the event, he laughed, "She didn't need help. I just didn't have anything else to do."
They signed autographs for more than 500 people in two hours. Most of the fans had a personal connection to the couple -- even if it was by their neighbor's cousin's half sister's friend. The Jacksons seemed genuinely happy to hear each story.
After leaving the bookstore, the couple made time for a quick bite to eat at Sprayberry's Barbecue, a local landmark that's been in business since 1926, before heading to the Coweta County school system's Centre for the Performing and Visual Arts where both Alan and Denise were among the honorees receiving the Richard Brooks Visionary Award of Distinction. The new award honors those who have made significant contributions to the arts.
Denise's induction began with a photo montage of her family while "A Woman's Love," a song from Alan's Like Red on a Rose album, reinforced the sentiment. Those close to Denise spoke of her outstanding character, faith and giving nature.
With deep roots in their hometown, the Jacksons were instrumental in funding Angel's House, a shelter for abused children. They even donated a Corvette to be raffled off to raise funds, and he came to town for a charity concert.
Alan's induction included a children's choir decked out in cowboy hats and shades (a la "Chattahoochee") singing "Little Bitty" and receiving a standing ovation from the man of the hour.
Speakers included Jackson's longtime producer Keith Stegall and his former drama teacher, Claudette Sides, who described the young Jackson to the crowd by noting, "He was built like a pencil and had the longest legs I'd ever seen on a child."
Truly making it a family affair, Alan's nephew Adam and wife Shannon, better known as the Wrights, were on hand for an acoustic performance of "Home."
Just before Alan was presented his award, his four sisters, mother and brother-in-law took to the stage in black jackets and torn knee jeans (a nod to his sense of style at award shows) and performed "Precious Memories" and "I'll Fly Away" as Alan's eyes filled with tears.
"I don't think I've ever told anybody this before, but when I came down to play for the kids at Angel's House, I went home that night, and I was so tired," he said. "I went straight to bed, and the words for 'Where Were You ...' just came to me.
"I've always said that song was a gift from God. I came down here to play for the children and that night, He sent me that song. Newnan keeps making its way into my music. 'Home' was the first song I wrote when I got to Nashville. I'd never really been anywhere before." He laughed, adding, "It was like going to Europe for me."
Surrounded by the folks who have known the couple all their lives, Alan told the crowd, "Thank you all for coming out here. I know it's been a long night."
A smile spread as he observed, "This was a little fancy for me. I'd just as soon have barbecue on some tables out front."
View photos from Alan Jackson's homecoming visit to Newnan, Ga.