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At Hall of Fame induction, Wynonna and Ashley Judd honor mother Naomi

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 5/2/2022 Emily Yahr
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Wynonna Judd appeared at the Country Music Hall of Fame ceremony Sunday evening in Nashville for a brief and emotional tribute to her mother and duo partner, Naomi Judd, who died the day before the Judds were scheduled to be inducted into the prestigious ranks.

“I didn’t prepare anything tonight because I knew Mom would probably talk the most,” Wynonna Judd told the audience. “I’m going to make this fast because my heart’s broken and I feel so blessed, and it’s a very strange dynamic to be this broken and this blessed.”

She thanked some of the songwriters behind the legendary duo’s hits, from “Young Love (Strong Love)” to “I Know Where I’m Going.” The Judds collected 14 No. 1 singles between 1984 and 1991 and won five Grammy Awards for best country performance by a duo or group.

“You all know that I’m all about the songs and the music. I could give a rip, really, about the rest because it comes and goes,” Judd said. “Though my heart’s broken, I will continue to sing because that’s what we do.” To conclude her speech, she recited Psalm 23.

Naomi Judd died at age 76 on Saturday; Wynonna Judd and her sister, actress Ashley Judd, said they “lost our beautiful mother to the disease of mental illness” and did not specify the cause of death. Naomi Judd had been outspoken about her struggles with depression over the years.

Naomi Judd, Grammy-winning country music star, dies at 76

Ashley Judd spoke at the ceremony and cried as she talked about her mother. “My mama loved you so much, and she appreciated your love for her, and I’m sorry that she couldn’t hang on until today,” she said. “Your esteem for her and your regard for her really penetrated her heart, and it was your affection for her that did keep her going in these last years.”

She turned her attention to her sister, reminding everyone that Wynonna was still being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. “I know that we’re talking a lot about Mom tonight, as we should be,” Ashley Judd said. “The newspapers don’t get much right these days, but when the Los Angeles Times said you were ‘Elvis-like,’ they got it right. And I love you, and I’m proud of you. And Mom is proud of you, and she always was.”

On Saturday, the Hall of Fame released a statement saying the organization was “shocked and saddened” by Naomi Judd’s death, and at the family’s request, the ceremony would proceed with the induction. However, red carpet arrivals were canceled. The Associated Press reported that fans gathered around the museum’s entrance, where there was a framed photo of Naomi Judd and a bouquet of flowers.

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Members of the country music community were also stunned when they learned the news Saturday, and remembrances poured in. “We’ve been down the long road together. I sure miss my buddy. Rest In Peace. Finally. Love you Naomi,” Reba McEntire wrote on Instagram. Billy Ray Cyrus tweeted: “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.”

“It’s hard to find any words at this moment. So I will just say rest Naomi,” Martina McBride wrote. “You brought us joy. Your legacy and music will live forever.”

The Hall of Fame event on Sunday also celebrated Ray Charles, Pete Drake and Eddie Bayers, and a slew of country stars performed their songs. For the Judds’ portion of the evening, Carly Pearce sang “Grandpa (Tell Me ’Bout the Good Old Days),” while Gillian Welch and David Rawlings took on “Young Love (Strong Love).”

Brandi Carlile posted a video on Instagram of her singing “Love Can Build a Bridge,” adding that she was originally scheduled to sing it at the ceremony. (She tested positive for the coronavirus last week.) The Judds sang the ballad at the CMT Music Awards last month, the first time they had performed at an award show in two decades; the same day, they announced plans for 10 concerts called “The Final Tour” for this fall.

“Having a bittersweet Sunday afternoon at home with my daughters today and praying for @wynonnajudd and @ashley_judd. We know they woke up to a world without their mom today,” Carlile wrote. “We want them to know that they’re so loved and that they’ve given a language to not just mothers and daughters everywhere but that every family can learn something about love.”

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