The Judds announced as part of Country Music Hall of Fame class of 2021
Five-time GRAMMY, nine-time CMA, and seven-time ACM Award-winning iconic duo, The Judds, will join Eddie Bayers, Ray Charles and Pete Drake as 2021 inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Country Music has a long history of family ties, and the genre has never had another family like The Judds. One of the most successful duos in Country Music history, mother Naomi and daughter Wynonna scored 20 Top 10 hits, including 14 No. 1s, between 1984 and 1991.
Those recordings —“Mama He’s Crazy,” “Why Not Me” and “Grandpa (Tell Me ‘bout the Good Old Days)” among them —stood out not only because of Wynonna’s disarming voice and Naomi’s unique approach to harmonies but also for their way of combining folk, bluegrass and blues into a sound like nothing else at the time.
“When we moved to Nashville in the late 70s, still struggling to make ends meet and dressing Wy and Ashley in thrift store dresses, I could’ve never imagined the success we achieved as The Judds. I am beyond thrilled and humbled for this incredible recognition. There’s no greater pinnacle in Country Music than the Country Music Hall of Fame,” Naomi shared.
“This moment takes me back to 1983 when Mom and I first started. We would get in the car and visit multiple radio stations a day. It kind of feels like I’ve hit the lottery. It is so surreal. John Lennon always said that he just wanted to be remembered, and now we’re truly part of history, or I should say HERstory. What an honor,” Wynonna said.
“The Judds broke barriers and blazed a trail for women, as well as men, in the entertainment industry. Naomi Judd’s non-stop perseverance paved the way for her family to break away from poverty and become international superstars. Naomi never stopped believing in herself or her family, and is a testament to persistence, determination and hard work,” shared Greg Hill, Naomi Judd’s manager.
“The works of this year’s inductees span crucial timestamps of Country Music history,” says Sarah Trahern, CMA Chief Executive Officer. “This impressive career landmark is the pinnacle of accomplishment in Country Music and I’m so proud to see Eddie, Ray, Pete, Naomi and Wynonna getting their much-deserved plaques on the wall of the Rotunda. Today’s fans and generations to come will forever be reminded of the distinct impact each made on this genre.”
“These people saw through artificial divisions, moved beyond rigid stylistic restrictions, and connected with worldwide audiences,” says Kyle Young, Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum Chief Executive Officer. “In revealing their individuality, they taught us about commonality. Lately, we’ve lived through a time of division and a time of isolation. But in the music of these greats, we find connection and inclusion.”
Naomi — born Diana Ellen Judd on January 11, 1946 — grew up in Ashland, KY, the daughter of a filling-station owner and his wife. She married as a teenager and had two daughters, Christina and Ashley Ciminella. Following a move to California and a divorce, Diana raised her daughters in California. As part of a fresh start, all three took Diana’s maiden name. Diana and her older daughter changed their first names, as well. Diana became Naomi, a biblical figure she admired, and Christina became Wynonna, using an adapted spelling of Winona, the northern Arizona town mentioned in the song “Route 66.”
Naomi financed the family’s move to Nashville by renting her restored 1957 Chevrolet — the same she’d drive from California to Tennessee — for use in “More American Graffiti” and by securing roles for her and Wynonna in the film. They made the move in 1979, and Naomi took a job as a nurse at Williamson County Medical Center. In early 1980, she and a 15-year-old Wynonna began appearing in the early mornings on WSM-TV’s “The Ralph Emery Show.” Emery dubbed them the “Soap Sisters” after Naomi told him she made her own lye soap.
Their break came via a chance encounter with Nashville producer Brent Maher, whose teenage daughter — a schoolmate of Wynonna’s — was injured in a car accident. Maher had seen the Soap Sisters’ television performances and recognized Naomi, one of his daughter’s nurses. When Maher’s daughter was dismissed from the hospital, Naomi gave Maher a tape she and Wynonna had made on a portable tape recorder in their kitchen. Maher began working with the two singers and, following a live audition in the offices of RCA Records’ Nashville office, they secured a recording deal with RCA Records/Curb Records.
The Judds made their debut in late 1983 with “Had a Dream (For the Heart),” a B-side for Elvis Presley seven years before. It began with a simple guitar strum, followed by a line of a cappella vocal from Wynonna. The record only cracked the Top 20, but the record’s less-is-more approach made the necessary impression. The follow-up, “Mama He’s Crazy,” went straight to No. 1, immediately making The Judds Country Music’s most successful mother-daughter act since Mother Maybelle Carter and the Carter Sisters. “Mama He’s Crazy” was the first of eight straight chart-toppers for the duo and earned Naomi and Wynonna their first of five GRAMMY Awards.
On the strength of “Mama He’s Crazy” and the six-song Wynonna & Naomi EP, The Judds won the Horizon Award at the 1984 CMA Awards ceremony (where Naomi famously began her acceptance speech by exclaiming, “Slap the dog and spit in the fire!”). They released their first full-length album, Why Not Me, the following week.
The Judds went on to win nine CMA Awards and seven from the Academy of Country Music, dominating both organizations’ vocal duo categories through the 1980s. In 1986, The Judds received their first of three CMA Awards nominations for Entertainer of the Year, making 22-year-old Wynonna the youngest person ever to be nominated for the honor. She held that distinction for more than 20 years.
Between 1984 and 1991, The Judds released six studio albums and an EP, their stripped-back style helping revive the popularity of acoustic sounds in Country Music and opening up the genre for more traditional approaches.
In October 1990, Naomi announced her retirement from performing due to chronic hepatitis. That retirement would come after the 124-date Love Can Build a Bridge Farewell Tour, which wrapped December 4, 1991, at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, TN. They have occasionally reunited since then, notably for the 1994 Super Bowl halftime show, a 2000 reunion tour, a 2008 performance at the Stagecoach Festival and the Last Encore Tour in 2010-2011.
Following the Love Can Build a Bridge Farewell Tour, Naomi and Wynonna pursued separate career paths. Wynonna launched a solo recording career with three No. 1 singles and a 5x Platinum album, Wynonna, in 1992. Naomi published her autobiography, “Love Can Build a Bridge,” in 1993. Wynonna published her own memoir, “Coming Home to Myself,” in 2005. Naomi pursued acting and television, hosting a talk show and serving as a judge and mentor on an entertainment competition series.
Together, the Judds have 16 Gold, Platinum, and multi-Platinum albums and longform videos, led by 2x Platinum albums Why Not Me and The Judds Greatest Hits. Wynonna has another half-dozen albums and videos certified by the Recording Industry Association of America.
During 2018-2019, Naomi and Wynonna were the subjects of the Country Hall of Fame and Museum exhibit, “The Judds: Dream Catchers,” which followed the duo from their beginnings in Eastern Kentucky to the peak of their careers. At the time, museum CEO Kyle Young quoted “A Million Miles to the City” a song by another Kentuckian, Tom T. Hall, adding that the tale of The Judds was “a million-mile story, told with heart and soul, about a miraculous, fortunate and harmonious journey.”
In her autobiography, Naomi wrote of her first visit to Music Row and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, saying, “It was as if we’d entered the pearly gates and were riding down streets of gold” and comparing the Hall to “a cathedral filled with holy relics.”
Now she and Wynonna have found a permanent home in the cathedral.
Jessica Blankenship is the owner and founder of Kentucky Country Music website with over 20 years experience in music journalism, concert planning, photography, and promotion. Jessica is a Kentucky Colonel and alumni of the 2019 Leadership Kentucky BRIGHT Class and a recipient of the Laurel County’s Ten Under 40 Award. Listen to her each week on WFKY on Friday mornings for the Nashville News Roundup.