The country singer premieres a performance of his track 'Our First Goodbye' with PEOPLE


Raleigh Keegan never felt that he had to find his birth mother.

Adopted when he was just a baby, Keegan was living a wonderful life filled with love, but there were still times he wondered about his birth mother. So, in 2017, he went and found her.

"She told me my birthday was always the hardest day of the year for her because she always struggled with her decision to give me up," the Ohio native tells PEOPLE. "But I wasn't ever looking for an apology from her. Because, at the end of the day, I just wanted her to know how thankful I was that I've had an awesome life."

On the day Keegan finally met his biological mother — 30 years after he was born — he was astounded at their similarities. They looked identical. They had the same bone structure and smile and super high foot arches that Keegan remembers wreaked havoc on his basketball career back in high school.

"We both had our rebel sides," adds Keegan, 31, whose grandfather on his mother's side was a notorious bank robber in the Cincinnati area back in the day. "It made me think about, you know, nature versus nurture and all that stuff. I mean, I certainly have tons of qualities of my parents who raised me. But here, I had never met this woman and there was so much about us that was similar. It was a very powerful moment."

But just two years after that powerful moment, Keegan's mother was gone again, after dying of cancer.

Raleigh Keegan
Credit: Sean McGee

"My birth mom was a wonderful woman," Keegan says. "She didn't want to take my mom's spot. She just wanted to know that I was okay. She just wanted the best for me. She was so happy to see how I turned out. And she was so grateful for my parents."

It is this story that eventually found itself in Keegan's brutally honest song "Our First Goodbye," a song the singer/songwriter wrote back in 2019. (He exclusively performs the track for PEOPLE.)

"I've only played this song one time publicly, and that was when I played the Bluebird Café for the first time," remembers Keegan, who also recently released "Jealous of the Sun." "It received a standing ovation, which made it even that much more emotional."

Permeated by a piano backbeat, the song will officially be released by in November during, coincidentally, Adoption Awareness Month.

"I never didn't know that I was adopted," says Keegan, whose birth mother found herself in the Ohio State Penitentiary on several drug charges when she gave birth to him and then handed him over to a loving family living in Cincinnati. "I feel like literally there wasn't even a moment where I didn't know It was always just like, 'We picked you and your brother up from the hospital and you're ours now and we've legally adopted you.'"

"It was never anything that I thought twice about," he adds. "It was just normal for me to be adopted. I never felt like anything was missing."

And Keegan says he wouldn't have wanted it any other way.

"I can't even describe how fortunate and blessed I've been by my parents and by my upbringing," Keegan says of his parents, who from an early age supported his musical dreams. "If you celebrate adoption versus hiding it, I just think psychologically, emotionally, mentally – it dramatically improves the kids' chances of handling it well. I can't imagine doing it any other way."

The revealing lyrics of "Our First Goodbye" also include a brief mention of Keegan's birth father, a man that he isn't as open about.

"What I know about him is that he played guitar," Keegan says in a rather point-blank manner. "He wasn't ever there for my mom. I know his name and I know he comes from a well-off family."

Will he look for him? "I'm really not sure," he explains, adding that there will be a song coming that will 'tell that side of the story.' "With my birth mom, I'm just full of thankfulness, right. I just have different feelings about him."

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Despite this, Keegan hopes that "Our First Goodbye" will show another side of adoption, a somewhat beautiful side often overlooked.

"I think what I want this song to be is a beacon of hope for people in this sort of situation," says Keegan. "Adoption can be a wonderful and powerful thing. If you're a woman who's pregnant or someone's struggling with that, there are options for you. And there's hope."

In fact, adoption is something that Keegan and his wife Shelby are considering.

"We definitely have a heart for that and, and love the idea of it," he says. "We are holding off on the kids right now. But definitely, someday I think that might be in the cards."