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Obituaries

Naomi Judd, country music matriarch of The Judds, is dead at 76

Naomi Judd
Stephen Cohen
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Getty Images
Naomi Judd

Updated April 30, 2022 at 5:56 PM ET

Naomi Judd, part of the Grammy-award winning country music duo The Judds, is dead at 76.

Judd's daughters, country singer Wynonna and actress Ashley Judd, confirmed the artist's death in a statement on Saturday. "Today we sisters experienced a tragedy. We lost our beautiful mother to the disease of mental illness," they wrote in a statement. "We are shattered. We are navigating profound grief and know that as we loved her, she was loved by her public. We are in unknown territory."

As a member of The Judds with her daughter Wynonna, Naomi Judd recorded and performed as one of the most successful mother-daughter acts in country music before the group stopped performing in the early 1990s. The Judds' hits included 1984's "Mama He's Crazy," which won the group their first Grammy Award, 1985's "Grandpa (Tell Me 'Bout the Good Old Days)" and 1990's "Love Can Build a Bridge."

Last year The Judds were announced as inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and were set to be inducted on Sunday. The group had also recently announced a final tour, set to begin in September. "The fans have always been my family of choice," Judd said in a statement announcing the tour. "I love them dearly, so I'm chompin' at the bit to belt out our hits and reconnect with them once again."

The Judds' legacy in country music

As a member of The Judds with her daughter Wynonna, Naomi Judd recorded and performed as one of the most successful mother-daughter acts in country music before the group stopped performing in the early 1990s. The Judds' hits included 1984's "Mama He's Crazy," which won the group their first Grammy Award, 1985's "Grandpa (Tell Me 'Bout the Good Old Days)" and 1990's "Love Can Build a Bridge."

Last year The Judds were announced as inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and were due to be inducted the day after Naomi Judd's death. The group had also recently announced a final tour, set to begin in September. "The fans have always been my family of choice," Naomi Judd said in a statement announcing the tour. "I love them dearly, so I'm chompin' at the bit to belt out our hits and reconnect with them once again."

The family's struggles

Naomi Judd was born Diana Ellen Judd on January 11, 1946, in Ashland, Ky. and gave birth to Wynonna the week of her high school graduation. She moved to Los Angeles in the late 1960s, the New York Times reported in a 1984 profile at the beginning of The Judds' rise, where she worked as a model and a secretary before moving Wynonna and her other daughter, Ashley, back to Kentucky. It was then she and Wynonna began singing together casually.

"I think it was a natural progression of Mom hearing my voice and humming along," Wynonna Judd told NPR's Scott Simon in 2010. "All of a sudden, before I know what's going on, she has attached herself vocally to me, and it's as if it we're one voice."

The family moved to Nashville, Tenn., in 1979 and Naomi and Wynonna pursued a music career. "We moved into a motel, and all of us slept in the same bed and ate bologna and crackers," Judd said in a 2017 interview with The Wall Street Journal. Judd and her daughter eventually signed a deal with RCA Records and in 1984 released their debut EP Wynonna & Naomi. With their strong mother-daughter bond, striking red hair and harmonizing vocals, the Judds quickly rose to fame in country music. The group would go on to release six studio albums between 1984 and 1991, earning 20 Top Ten hits, five Grammy Awards and nine Country Music Association awards.

The Judds ceased performing in the 1990s after Naomi Judd was diagnosed with hepatitis C and Wynonna pursued a solo career. "The doctors all said that I was gonna die in three years, and that was in 1990," Judd told NPR in 2010. "I told them I wasn't gonna kick the bucket. I'm feeling very healthy, and alive and radiant."

The duo continued to reunite and perform occasionally in the years after, including most recently at the 2022 CMT Awards where they performed "Love Can Build A Bridge." In later years, when not reuniting with her daughter to perform, Naomi Judd began to write and publish self-help and children's books, including her memoir River of Time: My Descent Into Depression and How I Emerged With Hope.

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