Wynonna Judd Makes Peace With the Past & an Uncertain Future
Naomi and Wynonna Judd — the chart-topping, award-winning, superstar mother and daughter who wowed country music fans as The Judds — were at the height of their fame in 1990 when tragedy struck. Though Naomi was only in her mid-forties, she was diagnosed with hepatitis C, the result of an accidental needle stick during her time working as a nurse.
Fans, family members and Naomi herself were stunned to learn that the elder Judd’s touring days were suddenly all but over. But Naomi still had plenty of life left in her.
Just because the ultra-feminine beauty with the Southern-belle style often took a back seat, singing harmony to Wynonna’s rich and bluesy lead vocals, Naomi boasted a steely backbone and extroverted nature that would not let her devastating illness have the last word. With a farewell tour in the works and decades of increasingly public family discord front of mind as she considered her prognosis, Naomi got to work cowriting a final legacy song for The Judds.
The result, “Love Can Build A Bridge,” offers a pointed, but sweetly hopeful soul-searcher about unity and reconciliation — among friends, families, races and mankind. Its powerful message gently addressed Naomi’s admitted single-mom regrets the family’s genetic mental health challenges, behind-the-scenes dramas and the best single step toward peace: Love.
“Love Can Build a Bridge” would become the title track of The Judd’s final album, plus a sold-out farewell tour and television special, leaving Wynonna to reshape her solo career while Naomi threw herself into serving as a public face for both hepatitis and mental health causes, writing books and making occasional public appearances. But as her well-being continued to plummet and her singing voice weakened, Naomi plunged into a deep depression.
Still, Naomi and Wynonna Judd surprised fans by announcing a second farewell tour called “The Judds: The Final Tour” during the 2022 CMT Music Awards on April 12, 2022. Though her husband would admit that the 76-year-old Naomi had become increasingly erratic, the world was stunned when she chose to end her life just 18 days later — a single day before The Judds would be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Wynonna, along with her actress sister Ashley Judd, still accepted the award together and at their mother’s memorial service weeks later to announce that Wynonna would honor their “salty single mama” by performing the tour solo and grieving. “We are showing the world what a dysfunctional family does.”
They get on with it, whatever that takes.
Wynonna’s new “Back to Wy” tour, featuring the flame-haired 59-year-old playing her first two solo albums in their entirety, launched Oct. 26. An all-star compilation, A Tribute to the Judds, featuring generations of country superstars from Dolly Parton, Trisha Yearwood and Reba McEntire, to Blake Shelton and emerging country stars such as Lainey Wilson and Jelly Roll, came out Oct. 27. Wynonna admits to mixed emotions about each.
“ … I’m getting older and I’m starting to get ‘tributed,’ and it feels really strange,” she told Yahoo Entertainment. “I feel so alive and so young in my spirit, and my musical journey is just getting started,” “But there’s the other side of me, now that Mom is gone, that says, ‘Absolutely we should honor this music and not forget where we come from. … Mom and I started in 1984, and what we did was historical. We made herstory. This [compilation] album is a tribute to that. So that, to me, makes total sense.”
Though Naomi Judd’s will resulted in additional discord between Wynonna, Ashley, the sisters’ most recent stepfather Larry Strickland and various members of their management teams, Wynonna says she has “a good team” helping her to manage grief as part of her mental health challenges.
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“I’m peacefully optimistic most of the time — and then, when I’m not, I’m in hell,” she admitted to Yahoo. “It’s the weirdest thing. Grief is a funny, weird, wacky, mysterious process. … I’ve got really good grief counselors that tell me that there’s purpose in this, even in the pain. And I’m writing a song about that. I just wrote a song called ‘I’m Broken and Blessed,’ and in the song, there’s a line that says, ‘I’m somewhere between hell and hallelujah.’ Isn’t that powerful? It’s just real, and it’s life and it’s death, and it’s what we’re all going to go through. I’m not any different from anyone else in that process.”
As her mama put into words, love can build a bridge. And Wynonna thinks it’s time.