Wynonna Judd returned to stage for the first time as part of the 11-show stint with The Judds, a final tour which was initially scheduled as a series of reunion concerts including her mother and singing partner, Naomi Judd.
But weeks after the slate of programs was announced, Naomi died by suicide on April 30 at the age of 76. Wynonna enlisted the help of a few women in the industry to make sure the tour continued on as planned, only now more so to honor her mother for the trailblazing path she paved in the country community.
“It’s devastatingly beautiful to go back to the past and relive some of these memories,” Wynonna told the Associated Press said earlier this week after practicing on stage. “Yesterday I was in rehearsal and there’s a part in the show where they sync up Mom singing with me. And I turned around, and I just lost it.”
The tour began on Friday night in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with a show on Saturday in Toledo, Ohio. Stops are slated for Green Bay, Wisconsin, Fort Worth, Texas, and Nashville before ending in their home state in Lexington, Kentucky. Special guests include Brandi Carlile, Ashley McBryde, Little Big Town, Kelsea Ballerini, Trisha Yearwood, Faith Hill and tour opener Martina McBride.
Naomi’s husband, Larry Strickland, admitted he was having a difficult time seeing pictures of his wife and didn’t know “how much” he could handle.
“She loved being on the stage and singing,” Strickland said. “She loved people. And she would do her twisting and twirling. She was the harmony singer. She was all about her hair and the little dresses that she would have made. And so that was her world.”
Naomi had long battled with mental health issues, and shared some of her struggles in her memoir, “River of Time: My Descent into Depression and How I Emerged With Hope.” Her family also revealed she was battling PTSD and bipolar disorder.
“That’s the complexity of this issue, because my mother, even in her darkest hour, would put on her wig and go down to the emergency room and help other people during their emergencies,” Wynonna said, her strong voice cracking. “So I find it pretty devastating that she got to a point where she was done helping herself.”
Strickland agreed that despite trying to find the correct treatment, Naomi’s mental state was deteriorating and she was becoming resistant to medications.
“The lows that she would experience with her mental illness just seemed to get worse,” he said.
The mother-daughter duo were about to embark on the reunion tour to reminisce with fans on their favorite ‘80s and ’90s songs from The Judds, one of the most successful music acts from the genre with five Grammy Awards, nine CMA awards and 14 No. 1 singles on the Billboard Hot Country Songs charts.
“I got the call, and I went over, and I saw her and I said goodbye to her in the hospital, and I closed her eyes, and I kissed her forehead, and that was that,” Judd told CBS Sunday Morning last week during her first interview since Naomi died. “And next thing I know, I’m sitting here on the side porch, and I’m just trying to figure out what’s next.”
One day after Naomi took her own life on April 30, 2022, The Judds were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
“I did not know that she was at the place she was at when she ended it, because she had had episodes before and she got better. And that’s what I live in, is like, ‘Was there anything I should have looked for or should I have known?’ I didn’t.”
When asked if she was “angry at all,” Wynonna replied, “Yes. Incredibly angry.”
“Does that ever go away?” Lee Cowan followed up.
“No, I don’t think so, not for a while,” she said. “And I’ll let you know. I’ll call you up and literally send you a note.”
Naomi’s death brought a positive change in her relationship with her sister Ashley Judd though, who rose to fame starring in the 1995 film “Heat” and went on to star in dozens of roles while also taking on activism with humanitarian work focused on gender equality, and reproductive health and rights for women.
“We both kind of look at each other like, ‘I’ve got you,’ right? And we look at each other and we say, ‘Yeah.’ We’re so united right now, I think more so than we have been in a long time,” the “Love Can Build A Bridge” singer said.
In 1990, Naomi announced her retirement from performing due to chronic hepatitis. Wynonna continued her solo career and they occasionally reunited for special performances.
When asked if the slate of shows would be “therapy in some ways,” she was unsure, but noted, “I think it’s important to do it, if that makes sense. I feel like I have my marching orders.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please contact the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
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