One day before she was scheduled to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, it was revealed that The Judds’ Naomi Judd died on Saturday (April 30). She was 76.
On Saturday, Naomi’s daughter Ashley Judd announced on social media that her mother had passed. “Today we sisters experienced a tragedy,” she writes. “We lost our beautiful mother to the disease of mental illness. We are shattered. We are navigating profound grief and know that as we loved her, she was loved by her public. We are in unknown territory.”
Naomi and her other daughter and musical partner, Wynonna, were to be celebrated alongside Ray Charles, Eddie Bayers, and Pete Drake on Sunday (May 1) for their iconic career full of country hits. It is unclear at press time if the induction ceremony will still be held.
The two had also just performed on the CMT Awards, and announced their farewell tour that was scheduled to kick off in September.
Comprised of mother Naomi and daughter Wynonna, The Judds are one of the most successful duos in country music history. Together they scored 20 Top 10 hits, including 14 No. 1s, between 1984 and 1991. Their most enduring country standards, such as “Mama He’s Crazy,” “Why Not Me” and “Grandpa (Tell Me ‘bout the Good Old Days),” infused folk, bluegrass and blues into a unique country sound all their own.
Naomi was born Diana Ellen Judd on January 11, 1946 and grew up in Ashland, Kentucky. She married as a teenager and had two daughters, Christina and Ashley Ciminella, before divorcing and moving to California. As part of a fresh start, all three took Diana’s maiden name. Diana and her older daughter changed their first names, as well. Diana became Naomi, a biblical figure she admired, and Christina became Wynonna, using an adapted spelling of Winona, the northern Arizona town mentioned in the song “Route 66.”
Naomi moved the family to Nashville in 1979, where she took a job as a nurse at Williamson County Medical Center. Her and a 15-year-old Wynonna began appearing on WSM-TV’s The Ralph Emery Show in the early ’80s, but their break came via a chance encounter with Nashville producer Brent Maher. Maher’s teenage daughter, who had been injured in a car accident, had seen the mother-daughter duo on television and recognized Naomi, one of his daughter’s nurses. He began working with The Judds and helped secure them a recording contract with RCA Records/Curb Records.
After releasing “Had a Dream (For the Heart),” a B-side for Elvis Presley in 1983, The Judds scored their first hit with its follow-up, “Mama He’s Crazy.” The song hit No. 1 on the charts, immediately making The Judds country music’s most successful mother-daughter act since Mother Maybelle Carter and the Carter Sisters. “Mama He’s Crazy” was the first of eight straight chart-toppers for the duo and earned Naomi and Wynonna their first of five Grammy Awards.
Following “Mama He’s Crazy,” The Judds released the six-song Wynonna & Naomi EP and won the Horizon Award at the 1984 CMA Awards. They released their first full-length album, Why Not Me, the following week.
The Judds became frequent award winners throughout the ’80s, collecting nine CMA Awards and seven from the Academy of Country Music. They released six studio albums and an EP from 1984 to 1991, and helped revive the popularity of acoustic sounds in country music. Together, the Judds have 16 Gold, Platinum, and multi-Platinum albums and longform videos, led by 2x Platinum albums Why Not Me and The Judds Greatest Hits.
In October 1990, Naomi announced her retirement from performing due to chronic hepatitis. That retirement would come after the 124-date “Love Can Build a Bridge Farewell Tour,” which wrapped December 4, 1991, at Middle Tennessee State University.
Other than a handful of subsequent performances together, both Naomi and Wynonna pursued solo career paths until announcing their reunion tour for 2022. Naomi published her autobiography Love Can Build a Bridge in 1993, as well as pursued acting and television opportunities, hosting a talk show and serving as a judge and mentor on an entertainment competition series.
The two were announced as inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2021.
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