Naomi Judd Passes Away at Age 76

We remember a magnificent mother who defined Country Music in the 80s and 90s

The late, great Naomi Judd (Image:

Country music is filled with the names of women who became indelible icons and will rightfully be remembered forever.

Mother Maybelle Carter was as essential to development of the genre as Hank Williams, Roy Acuff and Johnny Cash. Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton established a template that lingers even today. 

In her own distinct way, Naomi Judd managed to do something wholly unique, that is to combine her maternal instincts with a sound that not only captured the hearts of her fans and fellow artists, but also proved unique within the reams of popular music. She co-founded a duo called the Judds with her first child, Wynonna, creating a mother-daughter pairing that ranks as one of the most successful duos in country music history, courtesy of five Grammy Awards (with an additional one going to Naomi herself for penning the song “Love Can Build a Bridge”), countless other honors, sales of some 20 million albums, and twenty top ten hits, including fifteen that went all the way to number one.

Sibling success stories are one thing, but this mother-daughter pairing proved unique indeed.

So too, she deserves credit for giving birth to actress Ashley Judd, who achieved her fame all on her own.

The Judds on the cover of their Greatest Hits album (Image: Discogs)

Sadly, the Judds were forced to call it quits in 1991 after Naomi was diagnosed with hepatitis C. Their farewell tour set a new record as a cable pay-per-view event, and Naomi went on to turn tragedy into triumph by establishing the Naomi Judd Education and Research Fund to raise awareness of hepatitis C. She also became a spokeswoman for the American Livee Foundation. Later, she tried her hand at acting, appearing in such films as More American Graffiti, A Holiday Romance, An Evergreen Christmas, and The Killing Game, the latter on the Lifetime Channel. 

Never content to sit still, Naomi reconvened the Judds for a New Year’s Eve concert in 1999 and another successful tour in 2000, playing to over 300,000 people in some thirty cities. That led to further accolades, including an Academy of Country Music nomination for top vocal group of the year.

She went on to host her own Sunday morning talk show, Naomi’s New Morning on the Hallmark Channel and to serve a judge on a revamped Star Search and new program, Can You Judge, from the producers of American Idol. She became a competitor herself alongside her husband on a reality cooking series called My Kitchen Rules. In addition, she wrote several best-selling self-help books.


VIDEO: The Judds “Love Can Build a Bridge”

Nevertheless, her medical issues eventually took their toll, most of them related to the effects of mental illness. She died this past Saturday, April 30 at the age of 76.

In announcing her passing, Ashley Judd wrote, “Today we sisters experienced a tragedy. We lost our beautiful mother to the disease of mental illness. We are navigating profound grief and know that as we loved her, she was loved by her public. We are in unknown territory.”

Other artists were quick to express their condolences. Billy Ray Cyrus wrote, “So sad at the loss of my friend and music legend Naomi Judd. My thoughts and prayers go out to her family and friends. As a fellow Kentuckian, my hats off in honor of the legacy of music she shared with the world and the doors she opened for so many others like me.”

“Say it isn’t so,” Tanya Tucker said. “Cannot believe my girlfriend and longtime buddy Naomi is gone. We’ve known each other for years and she always treated me with class, grace and pure kindness. I’m going to miss her so much.”

“We, like everyone who knew her, are devastated by the news of her passing,” the Bellamy Brothers added. “We will always hold near and dear the memories of touring with The Judds and visiting with Naomi backstage at so many events through the years. May you Rest In Peace, Naomi.”

Being an exceptional artist is a special achievement. However serving in the role of mother makes oneespecially exceptional. There’s no doubt this will be a difficult Mother’s Day for both her family and her fans, but there’s consolation in knowing she’ll always be remembered as a remarkable woman. 



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Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

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