NASHVILLE, Tennessee — Naomi Judd, whose family harmonies with daughter Wynonna turned them into Grammy-winning country stars The Judds, has died. She was 76.
Her daughters, Wynonna and Ashley, announced her death in a statement to The Associated Press on Saturday.
“Today we sisters experienced a tragedy. We lost our beautiful mother to the illness of mental illness,” the statement said. “We are devastated. We navigate deep grief and know that as we loved her, she was loved by her audience as well. We are in uncharted territory.”
Naomi Judd died near Nashville, Tennessee, said a statement on behalf of her husband and fellow singer, Larry Strickland. It said no further details about her death would be released and asked for privacy while the family mourns.
The Judds were scheduled to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame on Sunday, and they had just announced that they would begin an arena tour in the fall, their first joint tour in more than a decade.
The mother-daughter performers scored 14 No. 1 songs in a career spanning nearly three decades. Combining the traditional Appalachian sounds of bluegrass with polished pop styles, the red-haired duo scored hit after hit throughout the 1980s. Wynonna led the duo with her powerful vocals, while Naomi provided harmonies and stylish looks on stage.
They also returned to award shows when they performed at the CMT Music Awards earlier this month.
“It’s an honor to have witnessed ‘Love Can Build a Bridge’ a few weeks ago,” singer Maren Morris wrote on Twitter on Saturday.
“This is heartbreaking news! Naomi Judd was one of the sweetest people I’ve ever known,” singer Travis Tritt posted on Twitter, noting that he had collaborated with Judd several times on screen and in performances.
“Country music has lost a true legend…sing with the angels, Naomi!!! We are all sending out prayers for the Judd family today,” singer Carrie Underwood wrote on Twitter.
After reaching the pinnacle of country music, they called it quits in 1991 after doctors diagnosed Naomi Judd with hepatitis C. Wynonna continued her solo career.
The Judds’ hits included “Love Can Build a Bridge” in 1990, “Mama He’s Crazy” in 1984, “Why Not Me” in 1984, “Turn It Loose” in 1988, “Girls Night Out” in 1985, “Rockin’ With the Rhythm of the Rain” in 1986 and “Grandpa” in 1986.
Born Diana Ellen Judd in Ashland, Kentucky, Naomi was working as a single mother and nurse in Nashville when she and Wynonna began singing together professionally. Their unique harmonies, along with elements of acoustic music, bluegrass and blues, made them stand out in the genre at the time.
“We had such an original stamp on what we were trying to do,” Naomi Judd told The AP after they were announced they would be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
In an interview with the AP in March, Naomi Judd said she was already deep in preparation for the upcoming tour and looking forward to being inducted into the Hall of Fame.
“To have all the incredible opportunities I’ve had, to be reminded of everything that makes me really humble and I just want to enjoy the moment,” Judd said.
Wynonna Judd noted that their music had kept them together all their lives.
“Music is the bridge between mom and me, and it binds us together,” she told the AP. “Even in the not easy times.”
The Judds released six studio albums and an EP between 1984 and 1991 and won nine Country Music Association Awards and seven from the Academy of Country Music. They earned a total of five Grammy Awards along with hits like “Why Not Me” and “Give A Little Love,” and Naomi earned a sixth Grammy for writing “Love Can Build a Bridge.”
The Judds also performed during halftime of the 1994 Super Bowl, along with Travis Tritt, Clint Black and Tanya Tucker.
The Judds sang about family, the faith in marriage, and the virtue of fidelity. Since Naomi looked so young, the two were mistaken for sisters early in their careers. She was also known for favoring flashy stage outfits, full of glitter and rhinestones, over casual boots and cowboy-style clothes.
They first gained attention while singing on Ralph Emery’s morning show in the early 1980s, where the host referred to them as the “Soap Sisters” because Naomi said she made her own soap.
After the success of “Mama He’s Crazy” they won the Horizon Award at the CMA Awards in 1984. Naomi started her speech with “Slap the dog and spit in the fire!”
Naomi Judd was open about her health issues, as well as severe depression and anxiety. In her memoir, “River of Time,” she described her diagnosis of hepatitis C, which she claims she had unknowingly contracted during her time as a nurse. She said her doctors told her in 1995 that she was completely free of the virus.
In the memoir, she described feeling as if she had lost her identity when she returned home after a 2010 reunion tour, where she isolated herself in her home and suffered crippling panic attacks. She also said she had dealt with childhood sexual abuse trauma. She was admitted to a psychiatric ward of a hospital and spent time in an outpatient treatment program.
Daughter Ashley Judd is an actor and humanitarian known for her roles in such films as ‘Kiss the Girls’, ‘Double Jeopardy’ and ‘Heat’.
Strickland, who was a backing singer for Elvis Presley, was married to Naomi Judd for 32 years.
Follow Kristin M. Hall at https://twitter.com/kmhall