Singer and TV star Naomi Judd, known for nearly four decades as the matriarch of country music duo The Judds, died Saturday at the age of 76. The cause of death was not immediately given, although in a statement, daughters Winona Judd and Ashley Judd attributed their death to their mother from a “mental illness”.
“Today, we sisters experienced a tragedy,” the statement said, according to the Associated Press. “We lost our beautiful mother due to mental illness. We are broken. We are deeply saddened and know that just as we loved her, the audience loved her. We are in unknown territory.”
Publicist Naomi Judd said in a statement that her 32-year-old husband Larry Strickland “will not make any further statements. Naomi Judd’s family is demanding privacy during this heartbreaking time. No further information will be available at this time.”
The announcement came the day before the Judds were to be officially inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame at the Nashville Medallion Awards. The ceremony will take place and Winona is expected to attend, according to a statement sent to Variety by a Hall spokesperson.
“The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum joins family and fans in mourning the sudden loss of Naomi Judd,” the statement said. “Following the wishes of the Judd family, the museum will host a medallion ceremony on Sunday, May 1, which Wynonna plans to attend. In addition to The Judds, Eddie Byers, Ray Charles and Pete Drake will be officially inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Red carpet arrival cancelled.”
The Judds also recently announced Naomi and Wynonna’s farewell tour, the first in over a decade. The short 10-show tour, organized by Sandbox Live and Live Nation, was scheduled to begin on September 30 in Grand Rapids, Michigan and conclude on October 28 at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. “Most of all, I’m looking forward to celebrating Judd’s music with the fans,” Wynonna said in a statement when the tour was announced. “My mom and I have come a long way in the last 38 years and the fans have been with us throughout it all. This tour is a holiday for them.” Three arena shows, including the Nashville final, were sold out, according to the Judds’ social media.
Just this month, the Judds sang on the CMT Music Awards and walked the red carpet (see photo below). The show aired live on CBS on April 11, the same day the duo announced their reunion/farewell tour.
As a duo, the Judds have been largely inactive in recent decades, reuniting periodically. They broke up for the first time after a performance that was billed as their last in 1991 when Naomi Judd was diagnosed with hepatitis C. After that, Wynonna embarked on a successful career as a solo artist while her mother raised awareness of the disease. They reunited for the Power to Change Tour at the turn of the millennium.
Naomi Judd has published nine books, most recently her memoir The River of Time: My Descent into Depression and How I Came with Hope, released in 2016. The Rest of Your Life (2007), Naomi’s Guide to Breakthrough: 20 Ways to Change Your Life (2004), and several children’s books.
The Judds had an unbroken string of eight consecutive No. 1 country singles in the 1980s, including “Why Not Me” and “Mama He’s Crazy”, which became their breakthrough in 1983, followed by hits such as “Girls’ Night out”. “Grandpa (Tell Me About the Good Old Days)” and “Right to the Rhythm of the Rain”. Their last charting single was “Stuck in Love” in 2000. They had not released an album of original material as a duo since “Love Can Build a Bridge” in 1990, but their string of 80s singles continued to be popular on country radio. to the present day.
The duo won the CMA Awards for “Best Duo/Group” from 1985 to 1991, winning a total of nine CMAs. Their eight Academy of Country Music Awards included Best Vocal Duo from 1984 to 1990. They also won five Grammys during this period, including Best Country Song for “Love Can Build a Bridge”.
Judd became a popular television host outside of the singing center as she served as a judge on Star Search in 2003–2004 and led to her own talk show, Naomi’s New Morning, which ran for two seasons on the Hallmark Channel. Other appearances on the series included “Can You Duet?” on CMT and My Cooking Rules on Fox, as well as in the TV movies The Killing Game and Holiday Romance and the theater production of More American Graffiti.
Diana Ellen Judd was born on January 11, 1946 in Ashland, Kentucky. She often spoke about raising Winona and Ashley as a single parent after her divorce from their father, Michael Ciminella. She attended nursing school at the College of Marin in California with the intention of eventually becoming an M.D. “I was going to use my RN to support myself and finish medical school,” she said in a 1995 interview. “I had this romantic idea of working with people in Appalachia, with my people.” But then “when Winona and I started singing together – she was so desperate to find a new direction in her life – it quickly became obvious that this was what we were supposed to do.”
In a 2016 interview with Robin Roberts on Good Morning America to promote her memoir, she said childhood sexual abuse led to depression, which she described as “extreme” and “so deep and debilitating and life-threatening” . Judd told Roberts, “I had to realize that in a way I had to educate myself. We all have this inner child and I needed to realize for the first time in my life that I got a rough deal, okay now I’m a big girl. Put on some big girl pants and deal with it.
She spoke of being “a little estranged” from Winona at the time, who she said “took the brunt of all the mistakes I made… We went through a lot of therapy together… From the day I found out that it exists, it was the two of us against the whole world, and then for decades we kind of grew up together, because in reality it was just the two of us. And I always tell her: “If I knew better, I would do better.”