What Thomas Rhett & His Wife Are Doing to Help 147 Million Orphans

 Joseph Llanes
Lauren Atkins and Thomas Rhett photographed on Oct. 4 at The Old School in Nashville.

Billboard’s Philanthropy Issue: Inside How the Music Industry Gives Back

Thomas Rhett and his wife, Lauren Akins, are squeezed together in a seat built for one on Rhett’s tour bus, parked behind a chicly rustic farm-to-table restaurant 20 minutes outside Nashville called The Old School, where the couple will host a benefit for 147 Million Orphans that October evening. “Obviously, my thing is writing songs and playing shows,” says Rhett, his gaze shifting to Lauren, “and her thing is having a massive heart for less fortunate children.”

Lauren met the nephew of 147 co-founder Suzanne Mayernick at the University of Tennessee. In 2015, she learned that the organization was planning a medical-mission trip to Haiti and jumped to join the expedition and to put her nursing degree to use. “I remember the first time I took a little boy’s temperature,” says the 26-year-old. “It chokes me up every time I think about it, because I can still see his face.”

Upon her return to Tennessee, her husband says the trip was “all we talked about for two weeks.” Rhett, also 26, who was then on his way to his fifth straight No. 1 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart, made sure his ballooning fan base was aware of his wife’s relief work too, tweeting about her subsequent treks to Honduras and Uganda. Then he ventured into fundraising. “We sold these shirts that said, ‘This Is Thomas Rhett’s T-shirt,’ ” he says, referencing his soul-pop-inflected hit “T-Shirt.” “Very cheesy.”

But the couple, who do not have children, wanted to do even more, opting to stage the catered dinner and show, and ensuring a sold-out crowd with fellow country star Dierks Bentley and surprise guest Florida Georgia Line. The benefit brought in more than $250,000, which 147 will put to use delivering necessities to orphaned children around the world.

Lauren has been invited to join the 147 board, and Rhett is finally about to join her on a mission trip to Uganda, where some nonprofit staffers are expecting a guitar lesson. He says, “They were all like, ‘Are you going to bring your guitar?’ So I feel like I’m going to have to bring it.” Quips Lauren: “And show off a little bit.” 

Go to 147millionorphans.org to learn more about the organization, which has countered the worldwide orphan crisis since 2009.

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 5 issue of Billboard. 


THE BILLBOARD BIZ
SUBSCRIBER EXPERIENCE

The Biz premium subscriber content has moved to Billboard.com/business.


To simplify subscriber access, we have temporarily disabled the password requirement.