the judds

Naomi Judd and her daughter Wynonna were one of the most popular country acts of the 1980s, eventually becoming the most successful duo in the genre's history. With Wynonna's strong bluesy style and Naomi's exquisite harmonies, the Judds presented an arresting image that was both home-spun and city slick. During the eight years they performed together, they had many hits, including 14 number one singles.

Born Dianna Ellen Judd in Ashland, Kentucky, Naomi was 18 when she gave birth to Wynonna (born Christina Ciminella Judd). When Wynonna was four, Naomi -- who had since given birth to Ashley and divorced the girls' father -- decided to take her children to Los Angeles. Struggling to support her family over the next seven years, Naomi held a variety of jobs that ranged from modeling to working as the personal secretary for the Fifth Dimension. She was also in a relationship at that time, but when it turned abusive, she decided to return to Kentucky in 1976, where the family lived in a rural area with few modern conveniences until Wynonna was 12. As Naomi would not buy a television, nor a phone, they would entertain themselves at night by listening to local musicians and the Grand Ole Opry on radio. A local singer named Songbird Yancy and her mother Minnie inspired the Judds to begin singing together. About a year later, when Wynonna was in her early teens, Naomi moved the family to Northern California, where she intended to complete her nursing studies. By this time, she realized that her oldest daughter had real talent and decided to move to Nashville to see if they could build a music career.

The Judds arrived in Nashville in 1979 and while Naomi worked as a nurse, Wynonna finished high school. As they continued to hone their singing skills, they began performing occasionally on the early morning Ralph Emery show. Frequently, the Judds' idea of networking was to simply sit down and sing to whoever would listen. It was through such a live audition that the two came to be managed by Woody Bowles and Ken Stilts. Their managers brought a crudely recorded demo containing songs Naomi had written to noted producer Brent Maher. Impressed by the potential in Wynonna's still-developing voice, and by the intelligence of Naomi's songs, Maher helped the duo get an audition with Dick Whitehouse at Curb Records. In turn, Whitehouse sent a demo to RCA, who requested a live demo with the group in Los Angeles. The Judds had no idea that the seven men they sang for were the label's upper-level executives. With only Wynonna's guitar to accompany them, the women sang for 30 minutes and afterward were immediately offered a contract. In late 1983, they released their first single "Had a Dream (For the Heart)" and reached the country the Top 20. A mini-album The Judds: Wynonna and Naomi followed and a hastily assembled tour came after that.

With "Mama He's Crazy" in early 1984, the Judds began a streak of eight consecutive number one hits. "Why Not Me," their second number one hit, won the Country Music Association's Single of the Year award for 1984. Between 1985 and 1990, the duo issued hit after hit; their albums proved equally successful, with Rockin' With the Rhythm (1985), Heartland (1987), Greatest Hits (1988) and Love Can Build a Bridge (1990) all reaching platinum-selling status. At the turn of the decade, however, Naomi had contracted chronic, acute hepatitis, an incurable, life-threatening disease. All the touring had seriously weakened her health and it began to show in 1990. For most of that year, she spent much of her time off stage bedridden and too weak to move.

Naomi's poor health led the duo to their disbandment in 1991. Before she retired, the Judds embarked upon a 124-date farewell tour, called "Love Can Build a Bridge." It was grueling for Naomi and emotionally wrenching for Wynonna, who, though encouraged by her mother and her managers to continue singing, was unsure about whether she wanted to go solo. By the end of 1991, she had decided to continue performing and signed a contract with MCA Records. Early in 1992, she released her eponymous debut album, which became a multi-platinum success. Naomi published her autobiography, Love Can Build a Bridge, in 1993. Her younger daughter, Ashley, became an acclaimed actress in the mid-'90s, appearing in the films Heat and A Time to Kill.



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