A much loved and Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter, Naomi Judd was a true queen of country music. Together with her daughter Wynonna, the multi-talented and charming Southerner formed The Judds, one of the most celebrated and successful groups to emerge from the Nashville music scene. During their career, The Judds released timeless country albums such as Why Not Me (1984) and Love Can Build a Bridge (1990), punctuated by honest, heartwarming lyrics and the duo's soothing harmonies. A potentially life-threatening disease halted Judd's musical career in the 1990s, which launched her daughter Wynonna's solo career as well as her own path to becoming a social advocate, best-selling author, and actress. Judd's turbulent relationship with Wynonna - both as a mother and artistic collaborator - was always a hot topic on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" (syndicated, 1986-2011), where the duo made 17 guest appearances throughout the series' 25-year history on air. In 2011, Judd reunited with Wynonna for a final tour and a reality series "The Judds" on the Oprah Winfrey Network. Centered on Judd's life out of the limelight as well as her personal and spiritual healing, "The Judds" told a unique and compelling story of a mother, entertainer, writer, and true icon of country music.
Diana Ellen Judd was born on Jan. 11, 1946 in Ashland, KY, the oldest daughter of Glen, a gas station owner, and Polly, a riverboat cook. Growing up in the Appalachian Mountain region of Kentucky, Judd was an honor student and fervent piano player. Judd's life took a turn as she entered her senior year of high school. She gave birth to her daughter Christina Claire in May 1964, but the biological father, Charles Jordan, abandoned the family. Judd ended up marrying Michael Ciminella, who gave the newborn his surname. On the day of Wynonna's birth, the 18-year-old Judd received her high school diploma in the mail. The young family moved to California four years later and a second daughter, Ashley, was born. After Judd's marriage to Ciminella dissolved in 1972, the single mother waited tables to support her two children. She dated a man who physically abused her and reportedly threatened to kill her one night. Judd escaped with her two daughters to a Santa Monica Boulevard motel and not long after that, decided to take her family back to Kentucky. It was while starting their lives over in a small mountaintop cottage in the Appalachians where Judd and her eldest daughter both took on new names. She changed her name to Naomi after her favorite Biblical story, while Christina switched hers to Wynonna.
Music became an important part of Judd's relationship with her daughters, especially with Wynonna, who fell in love with playing the guitar. Judd began writing songs, which the pair sang in perfect, natural harmony. By the late 1970s, Judd had earned a nursing degree and found work as an intensive care nurse and midwife, while keeping a night job as a waitress. Even though she worked long hours, Judd continued writing songs and singing with Wynonna. In 1983, one of Judd's patients arranged for them to audition for RCA Records in Nashville, TN. RCA Records signed the duo and released their debut album, Wynonna & Naomi (1983). Judd was well on her way to realizing hers and Wynonna's dream, but the move to Nashville and touring in support of the album also meant she had to leave Ashley behind to live with her father. Performing as The Judds, mother and daughter instantly won over audiences with their music. They topped the album charts with their sophomore release, Why Not Me, which spawned the No. 1 singles "Mama He's Crazy" and "Why Not Me." Fueled by their sweet melodies and Southern charm, The Judds earned their first Grammy Award in 1985 for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal for "Mama He's Crazy," and went on to dominate in the same category for the next several years. They also won top honors during the 1980s and early '90s at the Academy of Country Music (ACM) and Country Music Association (CMA) awards. In 1990, The Judds released Love Can Build a Bridge, their final album as a duo, which scored another Top 10 for the title track.
In 1990, the country music world was shaken with the news that Judd was retiring from the duo. She had been diagnosed with Hepatitis C and was advised to stop performing while she underwent treatment. Judd's time away from music allowed her to focus on fighting for her life - doctors reportedly only gave her three years to live - and exploring self-empowerment through a difficult time. Meanwhile, her daughter launched a successful solo career that included numerous No. 1 singles and sold-out concert tours. Her youngest daughter, Ashley, pursued her own career as an actress and starred in critically acclaimed films such as "Natural Born Killers" (1994) and "De-Lovely" (2004). Beating Hepatitis C gave Judd an opportunity to speak out on behalf of others who were battling the disease and give them hope. Additionally, she wrote several best-selling books including Naomi's Home Companion: A Treasury of Favorite Recipes, Food for Thought and Country Wit and Wisdom (1997) and Love Can Build a Bridge (1999). Her well-rounded entertainment career included hosting the talk show "Between Us with Naomi Judd" (WEtv, 2001-03) and acting in films like "Someone Like You." (2001), which happened to star Ashley. Judd finally made her musical comeback in 1999 and reunited with Wynonna for the successful "Power to Change" tour.
The phenomenal success of The Judds often paralleled the tumultuous relationship between mother and daughter. Even though Wynonna sang lead vocals, it was widely reported that Judd essentially ran the show throughout their career as a country duo. The family matriarch controlled every aspect of their work and often criticized her daughter's performances and personal life. The duo's lifelong friction often played out in public during their frequent guest appearances on "The Oprah Winfrey Show." The Judds' deeply personal confessions and heated bickering landed them 17 appearances on Winfrey's hit daytime talk show. In 2011, Judd and her daughter Wynonna reunited once again for the docu-series "The Judds" on Winfrey's network, OWN. Cameras followed the outspoken mother-daughter duo as they prepared for their first tour together in 10 years. Days before the show premiered, Judd's other daughter Ashley released her memoir, All That Is Bitter & Sweet (2011) in which she claimed she was a victim of sexual abuse and incest (from an unnamed family member) as a child. Judd and Wynonna revealed that they were also victims of sexual abuse growing up during a promotional appearance on "The View" (ABC, 1997- ).