Country music icons Wynonna and Naomi Judd underwent a natural evolution in their musical partnership as Wynonna matured from an older teenager to an adult.
While talking about their journey to superstardom as The Judds, Wynonna recalled how she came into her own identity as she got older. And though she had a hard time learning to tell her mother “no,” things changed when she realized she had a voice and needed to use it.
How Wynonna Judd and Naomi Judd became The Judds
Naomi became pregnant with Wynonna at 17, followed by little sister Ashley Judd in the years after. Recognizing Wynonna’s talent, she eventually moved the family from Kentucky to Nashville, where she worked as a nurse. And they sometimes lived in impoverished conditions while Naomi tried to make ends meet.
But, when Wynonna was 18, she and Naomi landed an audition at RCA that would forever change their lives. “It felt very much like going to [the] principal’s office,” Wynonna recalled (per PBS). “I was used to singing; I wasn’t used to being in a boardroom full of men.”
She was only out of her element for a moment, though. “[RCA studio head] Joe [Galante] remembers me taking my guitar out of its case just like it was a gun in a holster. I could sing in front of 10,000 people as long as I had my guitar. I was like ‘Xena’ with a guitar. It was my protection; it was my weapon,” she shared.
More than that, she added, “It was my best friend. It was my purpose for anything and anybody.”
After that meeting, the mother-daughter duo received a call back with a contract offer within two hours. And soon, The Judds released an EP, Wynonna & Naomi, followed by their debut full-length album, Why Not Me, in 1984.
When Wynonna Judd knew it was time to speak up in career talks with Naomi Judd
In an interview with Hunter Kelly for Apple’s Neon Songbook Radio, Wynonna said she can now look at the River of Time album cover from 1989 and recognize a change in herself. “This is the one that I look at, though, and go, ‘Ok, something happened on this one that was different than the others,’” she shared. “And you can sense it.”
“I’m starting to be a little more vocal,” she explained. “I’m starting to be a little bit more bossy.”
“I’m starting to say ‘no,’” she said before correcting herself. “Actually, I started to say, ‘That doesn’t work for me,’ because I knew saying ‘no’ to mom was like saying, ‘I’m not gonna do my chores.’”
Wynonna explained that she knew Naomi would “kick [her] butt” if she went about it wrong, but she learned to “speak up” in career conversations with her mother, who died in 2022.
Furthermore, by that time, Wynonna said she had heard “lead singer” enough to know she had a voice to use. And she clarified she was having a good time in the years before 1989 but added, “I don’t know that I was old enough or mature enough to really take it seriously, though.”
That changed around the time they released River of Time. She offered, “… There, I started to go, ‘Give me the keys to the car, I’m gonna drive.’”
Wynonna Judd and Naomi Judd reunited as The Judds before Naomi’s death
The Judds split up in 1991, and Wynonna said they “went out with a bang” by ending with a farewell tour and Pay-Per-View concert special (per PBS). She then embarked on a solo career while her mother recovered from hepatitis C, as reported by TODAY.
Once Naomi was well enough, they reunited professionally. And, through ups and downs, they always came back together through the decades, including at the 2022 CMT Music Awards not long before Naomi’s death.
They planned a fall tour, but Wynonna will now tour alone, something she called a “devastating” concept. However, she’ll have the support of friends and fellow country stars like Faith Hill and Trisha Yearwood, who are scheduled as tour guests.
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