Naomi Judd, who topped the country music charts in the 1980s and early 1990s with her daughter Wynonna in the Grammy-winning singing duo The Judds, has died near Nashville at age 76.
The death was announced a day before Naomi and Wynonna Judd were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Naomi Judd had written and spoken about her battle with depression, which had required hospitalization.
Naomi and Wynonna Judd began singing together in the late 1970s and became widely known after appearing on country music leader Ralph Emery’s morning television show in Nashville. By then, Naomi Judd had 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 years old,” Ms. Judd told the Dallas Morning News in 1994. “I had been through fires, earthquakes, been nailed, had my heart ripped out and trampled on by men. When I got into country music, I feel like what I did was just communicate.”
The Judds first hit the top of the country music charts in 1984 and over the next seven years had 14 No. 1 hits, including “mom is 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 closely intertwined harmonies, borrowing from bluegrass and gospel music, as they won five Grammy Awards, sold more than 20 million records and, for several years, garnered top honors at country music award shows.
At the height of their popularity, in 1991, the Judds stopped performing after Naomi Judd was diagnosed with Hepatitis C, which is believed to have been contracted while she was a nurse. Wynonna Judd went on to have a successful solo career, while Ashley Judd starred in the 1993 film “Ruby in Paradise” and the Emmy-winning television drama “Sisters.”
Both daughters credited their mother as an inspiration and for her firm belief in their ability to succeed in show business.
Naomi Judd settled outside of Nashville and wrote a best-selling autobiography, “Love Can Build a Bridge” (1993).
“I realized that I was playing a metaphor for mortality; a brief life lived on stage, taking my last bow before quietly disappearing into the darkness,” Ms. Judd wrote in the book, the first of nine she published, many on spirituality and self-realization.
She and Wynonna met periodically as the Judds, including at a Super Bowl XXVIII halftime performance in 1994. They last performed together on April 11 at the CMT Music Awards, which aired live on CBS. They were planning what they announced as a month-long farewell tour beginning 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.
Mrs. 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 was sexually abused by a great-uncle and later by schoolmates.
“I’ve been single since I was 17 years old,” Ms. 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 little brother he was dying [from Hodgkin’s disease], my parents were divorcing. The guy who got me pregnant left town when she found out she was pregnant.”
She had her first daughter, Christina (who later changed her name to Wynonna) the week she graduated from high school at age 18. By then, 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 Mrs. Judd lived on welfare and worked in stores and restaurants before beginning nursing school. She returned to Kentucky in the mid-1970s as a single mother, encouraging her daughters in her artistic interests.
“I started singing,” Wynonna Judd told the Ashland, Kentucky, Daily Independent in 2015, “and mom was doing chores around the house and she started singing in lower harmony. We would sit around the dinner table and sing to pass the time.”
After receiving a nursing degree from Eastern Kentucky University in 1979, Ms. Judd moved to Nashville, where she worked as a nurse and sought to help establish Wynonna Judd 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 stadiums and topping the charts. After Naomi Judd’s first retirement in 1991, she had various acting roles on television and in film. She recovered from hepatitis and began to tour again with her daughter from time to time, but after her, Naomi Judd said, she would retire to her country house and fall into a deep depression.
“I literally couldn’t leave the house for weeks,” she told People magazine in 2016. “I was completely immobilized and every second was like a day.”
He said that he had suicidal thoughts, which he sought to overcome through therapy and treatment in psychiatric hospitals. She chronicled his struggle in several books, including a candid 2016 memoir, “River of Time: My Descent into Depression and How I Emerged With Hope.”
“I’m still desperately trying to help myself,” she told 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 co-written by Naomi Judd about the death of her younger brother: “My future isn’t what it used to be, only today is all that he has promised me. Flow, river of time, wash away the pain and heal my mind.”