Naomi Judd, of Grammy Award-winning Judds, dies aged 76

Naomi Judd, who is one half of the Judds mother-daughter duo that dominated the country music charts in the 1980s with a blend of tightly harmonized vocals, traditional arrangements, and a modern pop aesthetic great, passed away Saturday outside Nashville. She was 76 years old.

Ashley Judd, actress, confirms her mother’s death on Twitter. She did not specify where she died or the cause, but said: “We lost our beautiful mother to mental illness.” Naomi Judd has lived for many years on a farm in the hills above Franklin, Tenn., a suburb of Nashville.

Along with her other daughter, Wynonna, Judd became a country star in 1983 with the single “Had a Dream (for the Heart)” and a year later, with her first album topping the charts. the duo’s ranking, “Why Not Me”.

This was followed by more hits – including 14 #1 hits – and a long list of honors, including 9 Country Music Association Awards and 5 Grammy Awards.

The Judds were at the forefront of the Neo-Traditional movement in country music, a reaction against the glitz and glamor of the Urban Cowboy sound and in favor of instruments and vocals that went back to the roots.

Though they were not avant-garde – musicians like George Strait and Ricky Skaggs performed for years when Judds rose to prominence – the duo stood out as a family band, a once-popular arrangement. in country music has fallen out of favor.

In their songs and especially in Naomi’s life story as a struggling single mother, they told millions of working-class women in the South and beyond, with songs about adult pain, the loneliness of family life, and the breakdown of community in modern society.

On one of their many hits, “Grandpa (Tell Me ‘Bout the Good Old Days)” (1986), they sang:

Is the promise really something that everyone has kept

Not just something they will say

Families have really bowed their heads in prayer?

Are fathers really never gone?

Oh, grandpa, tell me about the good old days

They have released six albums, most of which are filled with hit songs. Judds was at the time the most successful country duo in history, with over 20 million albums sold.

They put on a compelling performance. Naomi is more popular and attracts more crowds, while Wynonna is more reserved but a better singer. With matching flaming red hair and just a 17-year age difference, they’re often mistaken for sisters and look a lot alike on stage and at awards ceremonies – they once went to a ceremony dressed in Scarlett O’ Hara.

But their journey was short-lived: Naomi announced in 1990 that she had suffered a life-threatening case of hepatitis C, and they played their last concert in 1991.

Doctors gave Naomi another three years to live, but by 1995, her illness was completely in remission. By then Wynonna had started a successful solo career, and Naomi had turned to activism, acting, and writing.

The Judds have reunited for an occasional gig or short tour, and recently announced another tour that will begin this fall. Last month, at the CMT Music Awards, they performed together on television for the first time in years. They were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame on Sunday night.

Diana Ellen Judd was born on January 11, 1946 in Ashland, a coal mining town in northeastern Kentucky, along the Ohio River. Her father, Charles Glen Judd, owns a gas station and her mother, Pauline Ruth (Oliver) Judd, is a homemaker.

When she was 3, an uncle sexually abused her, an experience she later blamed on her struggles with anxiety and depression.

Naomi is an excellent student with plans to go to college. But a brief romance with a high school soccer player got her pregnant at 17, and when her father ran away from town, she married another suitor, Michael Ciminella. Wynonna was born the week Naomi graduated in 1964.

The family moved to Los Angeles in 1968, where Mr. Ciminella found work, and Ms. Judd studied for a nursing degree. Ashley was born that same year. But Ms. Judd said the marriage never ended, and they divorced in 1972.

Single and raising two daughters, Ms. Judd dropped out of school and worked as a model, waitress and secretary, including for the band Fifth Dimension. She dated occasionally, but when a casual boyfriend beat and raped her, she ran away from California, moving to Morrill, Ky., a town in the center of the state with a road and 50 residents.

They live simply, without a TV or a phone. Ms. Judd studied nursing in nearby Berea. For entertainment, Wynonna began singing and playing the guitar. From time to time, Miss Judd joined in, and soon they were regularly making music together.

“I can barely afford a used box, and have a 33-1/3 album by Hazel and Alice – Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard,” she told documentary filmmaker Ken Burns. “They are all coal mining songs. And when these women got along, it occurred to me: Wynonna and I couldn’t talk to each other, but, lo and behold, we could sing together. “

They decided to give Nashville injections, and they moved to Music City, USA, in 1979, where Ms. Judd found work as a nurse. Once again, the three of them get together, share a bed in an inn and live on bologna bread, recording demos in their free time and hoping for a break.

Finally, it happened in 1983, when one of Ms. Judd’s patients turned out to be the daughter of an executive at RCA Records. They had an audition, and that same day, they signed. A few months later, “Had a dream (for the heart)” was released, peaking at number 20 on the country charts.

“Suddenly, we had a future,” she told The Wall Street Journal. “For the first time in my life, I feel alive.”

Judds hits include “Mama He’s Crazy”, “Why Not Me”, (both from 1984); “Girls Night Out” (1985); “Rockin’ With the Rhythm of the Rain” and “Grandpa (Tell Me’ Bout the Good Old Days” (both 1986); “Turn It Loose” (1988); and “Love Can Build a Bridge” (1990) .

Along with her daughters, Mrs. Judd is survived by her husband, Larry Strickland, who was a backup singer for Elvis Presley.

After the duo broke up and Ms. Judd recovered from hepatitis, she pursued acting, with guest roles on sitcoms such as “Third Rock from the Sun” and roles in television series such as “Third Rock from the Sun”. Rio Diablo” (1993), starring Kenny Rogers. She was a judge on “Star Search” in 2003 and 2004, and she hosted a talk show, “Naomi’s New Morning,” for two seasons in the mid-2000s. Then she She had a radio talk show on SiriusXM.

Ms. Judd has also become increasingly vocal about her struggles with mental illness, especially after a series of reunion shows in 2009 and 2010.

She told Good Morning America 2016. “I’m going home and not leaving the house for three weeks, no pajamas and no normal hygiene.”

She recounted that struggle in her 2016 memoir, “River of Time: My Descent into Depression and How I Meerged with Hope.”

In it, she describes “two and a half years of my life, during which I went through the hell of mental illness,” but also “come back to life to give thanks for taking my next breath, for the gift of a clear thought, for fighting a nightmare a way to find joy every day. “

That new joy is evident in the duo’s upcoming tour plans. In a press release this month, Ms Judd said she was looking forward to reconnecting with her fans and singing with her daughter Wynonna.

Referring to Wynonna, Ms Judd said: ‘She asked me if I was still going to joke, spin and crack jokes. I replied, ‘Heck yeah! I’m so big now! ‘”

Isabella Grulloohn Paz contributed reporting.

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