The deaths were announced a day before Naomi and Wynonna Judd were scheduled to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Naomi Judd had written and spoken about her depression, which had necessitated hospitalization.
Naomi and Wynonna Judd began singing together in the late 1970s and rose to prominence after appearing on country music kingmaker Ralph Emery’s morning television show in Nashville. By this time, Naomi Judd had already been married, survived sexual assault and drug use, was supporting her daughters on welfare, and had become a registered nurse.
“I was 35 when we got into country music,” Ms. Judd told the Dallas Morning News in 1994. “I’d had my heart ripped out from fires, earthquakes, a nose dive, and trampled on by men. When I got into country music, I felt like I was just communicating.”
The Judds first topped the country charts in 1984 and had 14 No. 1 hits over the next seven years, including “Mom, he’s crazy“, “Why not me“Girls’ Night”, “Rockin’ With the Rhythm of the Rain” and “Love can build a bridge.”
The mother-daughter duo have often been mistaken for sisters because of Naomi Judd’s youthful looks. They sang in tightly woven harmonies and drew on bluegrass and gospel music while winning five Grammy Awards, selling more than 20 million records and earning top honors at Country Music Awards shows for several years.
At the height of their popularity in 1991, the Judds ceased performing after Naomi Judd was diagnosed with hepatitis C, believed to have contracted it as a nurse. Wynonna Judd continued her successful solo career while Ashley Judd starred in the 1993 film Ruby in Paradise and the Emmy-winning TV drama Sisters.
Both daughters credited their mother for inspiration and for her unwavering belief in her 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 I was a metaphor for mortality; lived a short life on stage, took my last bow before silently disappearing into the darkness,” Ms Judd wrote in the book, the first of nine she published, many about spirituality and self-actualization.
She and Wynonna reunited regularly as Judds, including at a halftime performance of Super Bowl XXVIII in 1994. They last appeared together on April 11 at the CMT Music Awards, which was broadcast live on CBS. They planned what they billed as a month-long farewell tour beginning in September.
Diana Ellen Judd was born on January 11, 1946 in Ashland, Kentucky. Her father ran a gas station and her mother was a waitress.
Ms. Judd, who later took the name Naomi from a favorite biblical character, grew up in a family marred by trauma, including murder and suicide. She later revealed that she was sexually abused by a great-uncle and later by schoolmates.
“Since I was 17, I’ve been on my own,” Ms. Judd told the Palm Beach Post in 2006. “When I was pregnant with Wynonna, when I was 17 and in my senior year of high school, no one knew I was pregnant, my little brother was dying [from Hodgkin’s disease], my parents got divorced. 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. By this 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 Ms Judd lived on welfare and worked in shops and restaurants before beginning to study nursing. She moved back to Kentucky as a single mother in the mid-1970s and encouraged her daughters in their artistic interests.
“I started singing,” Wynonna Judd told the Daily Independent in Ashland, Kentucky, in 2015, “and Mom did the chores and started singing lower harmonies. We sat around the dinner table and just sang to pass the time.”
After graduating from Eastern Kentucky University with a nursing degree in 1979, Ms. Judd moved to Nashville, where she worked as a registered nurse and attempted to 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 kings, selling arenas and topping the charts. After Naomi Judd’s initial retirement in 1991, she had several television and film roles. She recovered from hepatitis and began touring with her daughter from time to time, but after that, Naomi Judd said, she would withdraw 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 single second was like a day.”
She said she had suicidal thoughts, which she sought to overcome through therapy and treatment in psychiatric hospitals. She chronicled her struggle in several books, including a candid 2016 memoir called Flow 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, the survivors since 1989 include her husband 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 I was promised became. Flow on, river of time, wash away the pain and heal my spirit.”