NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Naomi Judd, whose family harmonies with daughter Wynonna turned them into the Grammy-winning country stars The Judds, has died. She was 76.
Her daughters, Wynonna and Ashley, announced her death on Saturday in a statement provided to The Associated Press.
“Today we sisters experienced a tragedy. We lost our beautiful mother to the disease of mental illness," the statement said. "We are shattered. We are navigating profound grief and know that as we loved her, she was loved by her public. We are in unknown 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 as the family grieves.
The Country Music Hall of Fame will continue with a planned induction ceremony for The Judds on Sunday.
“Naomi overcame incredible adversity on her way to a significant place in music history. Her triumphant life story overshadows today’s tragic news,” said Hall of Fame CEO Kyle Young in a statement. "Her family has asked that we continue with The Judds’ official Hall of Fame induction on Sunday. We will do so, with heavy hearts and weighted minds. Naomi and daughter Wynonna’s music will endure.”
They had also just announced an arena tour to begin in the fall, their first tour together in over a decade.
The mother-daughter performers scored 14 No. 1 songs in a career that spanned nearly three decades. The red-headed duo combined the traditional Appalachian sounds of bluegrass with polished pop stylings, scoring hit after hit in the 1980s. Wynonna led the duo with her powerful vocals, while Naomi provided harmonies and stylish looks on stage.
They also made a return to awards shows when they performed at the CMT Music Awards earlier this month.
“Honored to have witnessed “Love Can Build a Bridge” just a few short weeks ago,” singer Maren Morris posted 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 worked with Judd several times on screen and during performances.
“Country music lost a true legend…sing with the angels, Naomi!!! We’re all sending up prayers for the Judd family today,” singer Carrie Underwood wrote on Twitter.
After rising to the top 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 started singing together professionally. Their unique harmonies, together with elements of acoustic music, bluegrass and blues, made them stand out in the genre at the time.
“We had a such a stamp of originality on what we were trying to do,” Naomi Judd told The AP after it was announced that they would be joining the Country Music Hall of Fame.
In an interview with the AP in March, Naomi Judd said she was already deep into preparation for the upcoming tour and was looking forward to the Hall of Fame induction.
“To have all the incredible opportunities that I’ve had, being reminded of all that just makes me very humbled and I just want to bask in the moment," Judd said.
Wynonna Judd remarked that throughout their lives, their music had kept them together.
“Music is the bridge between mom and me, and it it bonds 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 together on 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 at the halftime of the 1994 Super Bowl, along with Travis Tritt, Clint Black and Tanya Tucker.
The Judds sang about family, the belief in marriage and the virtue of fidelity. Because Naomi was so young looking, the two were mistaken for sisters early in their career. She was also known to prefer flashy stage outfits, full of sparkles and rhinestones, over casual boots and cowboy style clothing.
They first got attention singing on Ralph Emery's morning show in early 1980, where the host named them the “Soap Sisters” because Naomi said she used to make her own soap.
After the success of “Mama He's Crazy," they won the Horizon Award at the 1984 CMA Awards. Naomi started her speech by saying "Slap the dog and spit in the fire!”
Naomi Judd was open about her health struggles, as well as severe depression and anxiety. In her memoir, “River of Time,” she described her diagnosis of hepatitis C, which she said she unknowingly contracted during her time as a nurse. She said that by 1995, her doctors had told her she was completely free of the virus.
In the memoir, she described feeling like she had lost her identity when she returned home after a 2010 reunion tour, isolating herself at her home and dealing with crippling panic attacks. She also said that she had been dealing with trauma from childhood sexual abuse. She was admitted to a psychiatric ward at a hospital and spent time in an outpatient treatment program.
Daughter Ashley Judd is an actor and humanitarian known for her roles in such movies as “Kiss the Girls,” ″Double Jeopardy” and “Heat.”
Strickland, who was a backup singer for Elvis Presley, was married to Naomi Judd for 32 years.
Follow Kristin M. Hall at https://twitter.com/kmhall