Grammy-winning country singer Naomi Judd – one half of mother-daughter duo The Judds, died on Saturday. She was 76 years old.
Judds’ daughters, Wynonna and Ashley, announced his death on Saturday.
“Today we sisters experienced a tragedy. We lost our beautiful mother to mental illness,” they said in a statement shared by the duo’s publicist. “We are devastated. We navigate deep grief and know that, as we loved her, she was loved by her audience. We are in uncharted territory.”
The Judds are due to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame on Sunday.
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The duo achieved 14 No. 1 hits in three decades, splitting as actors in 1991 after doctors diagnosed Naomi Judd with hepatitis. Between 1984 and 1991 alone, the Judds had 20 Top Ten hits and collected five Grammys, nine CMA Awards and seven ACM Awards.
Since arriving in Music City in 1979, Naomi Judd – and her family – were mainstays in the continued pop evolution of country music in the 1980s and beyond.
In a 2019 Tennessean interview honoring an exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Wynonna noted of herself and her mother’s career, “She was 36 and I was 18. Go outhouse in the White House, knowing that we’ve gone from welfare to millionaire, and we’re the American dream. People are going to see that and see themselves in us. It’s important to remember that we’re a mother and a girl who came out of nothing and made it…and if we can do it, you can too.
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Naomi Judd was born Diana Ellen Judd on January 11, 1946 in Ashland, Kentucky. A musically gifted student, she became pregnant but married Michael Ciminella – instead of the child’s biological father. She missed her high school diploma to give birth to this child, Christina (Wynonna), in 1964.
Mother Naomi’s musical desires persisted as she raised Wynonna amid significant turmoil.
By 1972, Judd and her husband had moved to Los Angeles, where she also gave birth to Wynonna’s sister, Ashley. However, during the same period, she and Ciminella also divorced. Judd attempted to juggle a life for her family while in Los Angeles as a welfare recipient also working secretarial, waitressing, and modeling jobs, but eventually returned to Kentucky.
“We (lived) on top of a mountain in Kentucky. We didn’t have a phone or a TV,” she told the Tennessean in a 2021 interview. “We were so broke and wearing market dresses Flea. We had these fantasies, and we were really awkward. We had such a sense of humor. And (we were) so eager to try new things and make fun of ourselves.
After a brief stint in Los Angeles, Naomi moved the family to Nashville in 1979 and took a job as a nurse at a hospital in Franklin, Tennessee. She also formed a duet with her then 19-year-old daughter: The Judds. By 1983, she had met producer Brent Maher, and the duo was signed to RCA Records. A year later, their second mainstream single, “Mama, He’s Crazy”, topped Billboard’s country charts.
After this success, The Judds enjoyed a near-consecutive streak of 14 No. 1 hits, including “Why Not Me”, “Love Is Alive”, and “Grandpa (Tell Me ‘Bout the Good Old Days)”.
Afterwards, RCA Records manager Joe Galante recalled to The Tennessean that upon hearing The Judds, Conway Twitty told him, “Son, I want to tell you. I heard the Judds. You did a great thing for country music. Then he hung up.”
Naomi and Wynonna split as a recording tandem in 1991 after Naomi was diagnosed with life-threatening hepatitis C. They reunited for an extensive farewell tour in 2010-11 and played together in 2017 at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville as part of a Kenny Rogers tribute.
Last year, The Judds enjoyed a resurgence in popularity, as they were named 2022 inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame, alongside Ray Charles, Eddie Bayers and Pete Drake.
When the Judds were named Hall of Fame inductees, Naomi Judd told the Tennessean, “A lot of my life, I felt anonymous. I felt neglected…So all of a sudden someone said, “Hey, wait a minute. something good. In fact, you passed, and someone else validates you. That means it has to be real.”
The Judds also performed at the 2022 CMT Music Awards, which was coupled with the announcement of an 11-date nationwide tour. The CMT Music Awards performance of their 1990 No. 1 single “Love Can Build A Bridge” featured an introduction by Kacey Musgraves before singing in front of the Country Music Hall of Fame.
“A mother and daughter whose unique sound, prolific songwriting and relentless perseverance have made them one of the most successful duos in the nation’s history,” Musgraves said.