Naomi Judd has died. As the senior half—with her daughter, Wynonna—of legendary mother-daughter country duo The Judds, Judd was one of the most successful country artists of the 1980s, winning multiple Grammys, charting more than a dozen No. 1 singles, and ultimately being inducted into the Country Music Hall Of Fame. Per Variety, Judd’s death today was announced publicly by her daughters, Wynonna and Ashley. Judd was 76.
Born Diana Judd in Kentucky in the 1940s, Judd had her first daughter, Wynonna (born Christina) when she was still a teenager. After a stint in Los Angeles, the Judds moved to Nashville, where Naomi began developing and promoting the duo act that would become The Judds, a deliberately simplified and stripped down response to the more glitzy country artists of the 1970s, powered first and foremost by Wynonna’s powerful voice (and Naomi’s advocacy for same). Touching on personal connections (a record producer parent of a patient she’d met while working as a nurse), Judd secured a record contract for herself and her daughter with RCA Nashville/Curb in the early 1980s.
The duo’s first album, Wynonna & Naomi, quickly established them as a new presence on the country music scene; single “Had A Dream (For The Heart)“ caught the pair their first chart attention, before “Mama He’s Crazy,” penned by Kenny O’Dell, became their first number one hit, eventually winning the Grammy for Best Country Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal. (A category The Judds would dominate for the next several years.)
The Judds reigned over the world of country music for the next decade, with platinum albums including Why Not Me (1984), Rockin’ With The Rhythm (1985), Heartland (1987), Christmas Time With The Judds (1987), and Love Can Build A Bridge (1990) all crossing the million-records mark. (Only 1989's River Of Time, released in 1989, when the group’s popularity had begun to fade, failed to go platinum.) Although The Judds began by using material written by others, later years saw Naomi embrace her role as a songwriter in addition to a vocalist.
In 1991, though, The Judds broke up—a factor of drifting record sales, health concerns, and, reportedly, increased tensions between Naomi and Wynnona, then on the brink of her own massively successful solo career. Give or take periodic reunions with her daughter (after the two’s relationship repaired in subsequent years), Naomi Judd stepped back from music. Instead, she embraced roles as an actor, spokesperson, author, activist, and TV host, penning numerous books, including a memoir, also titled River Of Time (and co-written by Marcia Wilkie), in 2017, and hosting her own Hallmark Channel talk show. (Plus: an OWN reality show, The Judds, centered on her and Wynonna.)
Ashley Judd announced her mother’s death via a joint statement with her sister on Instagram today, writing, “Today we sisters experience a tragedy. We lost our beautiful mother to the disease of mental illness. 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.”
The Judds had announced a new tour, billed as “The Final Tour,” earlier this month.