Naomi Judd: Grammy-winning musician and country music royalty
Naomi Judd, who topped the country music charts in the 1980s and early 1990s with her daughter Wynonna in Grammy-winning singing duo the Judds, has died aged 76.
Naomi and Wynonna Judd began singing together in the late 1970s and became well known after appearances on country music maker Ralph Emery’s Nashville morning TV show. By then, Naomi had already been through a marriage, survived sexual assault and drug use, supported her daughters on welfare, and became a registered nurse.
“When we got into country music, I was 35,” Judd said. The Dallas Morning News in 1994. “I have been through fires, earthquakes, I have been plunged, my heart has been torn and trampled by men. When I got into country music, I felt like all I was doing was communication.
The Judds first topped the country charts in 1984 and over the next seven years had 14 No. 1 hits, including “Mama He’s Crazy”, “Why Not Me”, “Girls Night Out” , “Rockin’ With the Rhythm of the Rain” and “Love Can Build a Bridge”.
The mother-daughter duo were often mistaken for sisters due to Naomi Judd’s youthful appearance. They sang in tightly knit harmonies, borrowing from bluegrass and gospel music, winning five Grammy Awards, selling more than 20 million records and, for several years, winning top honors at award shows from country music.
At the height of their popularity, in 1991, the Judds quit playing after Naomi was diagnosed with Hepatitis C, which she allegedly contracted when she was a nurse. Wynonna Judd went on to a successful solo career, while Ashley Judd starred in the 1993 film Ruby in paradise and the Emmy Award-winning TV drama sisters.
Naomi Judd has settled outside of Nashville, writing a bestselling autobiography, love can build a bridge (1993).
“I realized I was playing a metaphor for mortality; a brief life lived on stage, making my final salute before silently disappearing into obscurity,” Judd wrote in the book, the first of nine she has published, many of which are about spirituality and self-fulfillment.
She and Wynonna have periodically reunited as Judds, including at a Super Bowl XXVIII halftime performance in 1994. They last performed together on April 11 at the CMT Music Awards, which took aired live on CBS. They were planning what they billed as a month-long farewell tour starting in September.
Diana Ellen Judd was born on January 11, 1946 in Ashland, Kentucky. Her father operated a gas station and her mother was a waitress.
Judd, who later took the name Naomi from a favorite biblical character, grew up in a family marked by trauma including murder and suicide. She later revealed that she had been sexually abused by a great-uncle and later by classmates.
“I’ve been on my own since I was 17,” Judd told the palm beach post in 2006. “When I was pregnant with Wynonna, when I was 17 in my senior year of high school, no one knew I was pregnant, my baby brother was dying [from Hodgkin’s disease], my parents were about to divorce. The guy who got me pregnant left town when he found out I was pregnant.
She had her first child, Christina (who later changed her name to Wynonna), the week she graduated from high school at 18. At that time, she was married to her first husband, Michael Ciminella, who was the father of her second daughter, Ashley, who was born in 1968 after the family moved to California.
The couple divorced in the early 1970s and Judd lived on welfare and worked in shops and restaurants before starting to study nursing. She returned to Kentucky in the mid-1970s as a single mother, encouraging her daughters in their artistic interests.
“I started singing,” Wynonna Judd told the Independent Daily in 2015, “and mom was doing chores and she would start singing in lower harmony. We would sit around the dinner table and sing just to pass the time.
After earning a nursing degree from Eastern Kentucky University in 1979, Judd moved to Nashville, where she worked as a nurse and sought to help establish Wynonna as a singer. Instead, they found success as a duo, performing their own songs and others by Nashville songwriters.
For seven years, the Judds were country music royalty, selling out arenas and topping the charts. After Naomi Judd’s first retirement in 1991, she had several acting roles in television and film. She recovered from hepatitis and started touring with her daughter once in a while, but afterwards, Naomi says, she retired to her country house, falling into a deep depression.
“I literally couldn’t leave the house for weeks,” she said People magazine in 2016. “I was completely immobilized and every second felt like a day.”
She said she had suicidal thoughts, which she sought to overcome through therapy and treatment in psychiatric hospitals. She has chronicled her struggle in several books, including a heartfelt 2016 memoir, River of Time: My Descent into Depression and How I Emerged with Hope.
“I’m still desperately trying to help myself,” she said. People“but I’m vulnerable.”
In addition to her daughters, survivors include her husband since 1989, Larry Strickland, and two grandchildren.
At the final concert of the Judds’ first farewell tour in 1991, they sang “River of Time”, a song Naomi co-wrote about the death of her younger brother: “My future ain’t what it was, only today is all I am promised Run, river of time, wash away the pain and heal my spirit.
Naomi Judd, singer and songwriter, born January 11, 1946, died April 30, 2022
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