On January 11, 2023, what would have been Naomi Judd’s 77th birthday, her daughters held a party. “A bunch of our friends came and talked about her and told stories,” recalls Wynonna Judd. “They had cake, and people cried, and it was an amazing celebration … And then I went on stage and I sang, and that’s what I do.”
Wynonna has just wrapped up the last leg of The Judds: The Final Tour, an experience she calls both healing and liberating. A fitting coda to one of the most successful acts in country music history, it allowed Wynonna to connect with her fans and has given her permission to move on. “It’s made me even more determined to be myself,” says Wynonna. “It’s given me a louder voice.”
Success as half of the musical mother-daughter duo often felt like a double-edged sword to Wynonna, 58. In truth, a family band was always more Naomi’s dream than her daughter’s. As a teenager, Wynonna loved Joni Mitchell and aspired to sing like Linda Ronstadt or Bonnie Raitt. “[Naomi] had dreams and plans, and I had dreams and plans. They were very different,” says Wynonna. “But I was so codependent.”
When Naomi stopped performing due to her battle with hepatitis C in 1990, Wynonna felt like it was an opportunity to find herself, but that led to tension with her mother. “There’s a piece of me that feels like I left her at the party,” says Wynonna, who explains that Naomi became jealous whenever she went on tour. Her mother also interfered with many of the twice-divorced singer’s personal relationships, including the one with her husband, Cactus Moser. “She definitely thought that there were times when she was right, and I would have to conform to her way of thinking. And that was definitely a challenge,” Wynonna admits.
There were other issues, too. For many years, Wynonna didn’t know that she had a different father than her sister, actress Ashley Judd. Wynonna’s biological father, Charles Jordan, died in 2000 before the singer could meet him, but Wynonna did find her halfbrother, Michael. “We couldn’t get over how much we looked alike,” says the star, who never told Naomi about her new family. “They’re all so normal.”
Despite the friction between them, losing Naomi to suicide last spring broke Wynonna. “I had to seek counsel, because I was in a shutdown,” she admits.
One of her biggest supporters, Dolly Parton, urged her to go forward with the Judds tour. “I told her to get her ass out there on the road,” says Dolly. “It’s time for her to go on and do the great things she’s capable of doing, a new start.”
The experience gave Wynonna the courage to start believing in her own dreams again. “The lights from the phones would be waving, and they would be singing ‘Love Can Build a Bridge,’ and every person in there felt like they were singing directly towards me,” she says. “It was a celebration of life. And, boy, I’m glad I showed up — ’cause it’s changed my life.”