LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The family of the late country music matriarch Naomi Judd is reflecting on her legacy ahead of an 11-city tour that will give fans a chance to say goodbye and rejoice in the music that became the soundtrack of their lives.
Daughters Wynonna Judd and Ashley Judd remembered their mother in outtakes from interviews with The Associated Press as a beautiful, talented, smart and colorfully complex woman, who had highs and lows, and was honest about her mental health journey.
Actor and humanitarian Ashley Judd has dedicated her life to social justice issues, becoming a Goodwill Ambassador for UNFPA and was a key leader in the Time's Up organization. Her mother also used her platform to speak about her mental illness and was a tireless supporter of animal rescue. The two seemed cut from the same cloth.
“I definitely think our advocacy was mutual and reciprocal," Ashley Judd said. “I know that after a lot of my more public forums, she would both say to me directly and to her friends, and then it would get back to me through her friends, that she was enthralled by my audacity."
But Judd said they both knew how trauma could affect their own mental health.
“She did have a very tender soul. And so one of the phrases that we used with each other is you can’t unsee what you’ve seen," said Judd. "So she had to be very cautious with herself in terms of stepping into certain traumatic spaces. And yet it was very important for her to do the advocacy that she could. She wanted to help ameliorate and alleviate the suffering of the folks who also walked with mental illness. And she had no compunction about reducing stigma and shame.”
While the mother-daughter relationship was difficult because of The Judds' success and constant touring, Ashley Judd said in later years, they repaired the bond between them.
“Mom and I had a pretty glorious redo starting in 2006 when I was given the gift of coming into recovery. And for all the time that she and I missed while I was growing up, we had the gift of so much time together in these subsequent 17 years," Judd said.
After Ashley Judd shattered her leg hiking in a Congolese rainforest last year, her mother was by her side for numerous medical appointments, as well as joining her at a cabin in the Great Smoky Mountains after Judd recovered.
“We had a beautiful time together and as I was able to say to her at the end, all is forgiven a long time ago,” said Judd. "And that redemption narrative is strong for us.”
Their debut in the early '80s with Grammy-winning songs like “ Mama, He's Crazy ” and “Why Not Me" turned their lives around in a heartbeat and fans identified with their down-home charm and rootsy background.
“Before hair extensions and veneers and shiny pretty clothes that are new, we were two girls from eastern Kentucky who did not have a clue about anything show business," said Wynonna Judd. "And I think they got to know us when we were the most raw. And when you’re that new to the scene and you’re that naïve, I think they saw the vulnerability in me. I was 17 and a half when we signed with RCA. It was like winning the lottery.”
Unfortunately, the duo's career was shortened when Naomi Judd retired in the early '90s due to her contracting Hepatitis C. But in recent years, recognition of their impact has grown, culminating with their induction this year into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Wynonna Judd said fans have grown nostalgic for music that gives them fond memories.
“I think people want something real. I think they want something that they can remember," said Wynonna Judd. ”I find myself going back to the past because we want something that reminds us that there’s still hope. ‘ Love Can Build a Bridge ’ reminds us that love can build a bridge. And they believe us when we sing it together because we’re mother and daughter. And even through our dysfunction, there is a sense of unity from two very different women."
In the months since her mother's death, Wynonna Judd has been reaching out and seeking help, but also giving herself time to be alone with her grief. That includes sitting with her pet pigs and more than two dozen cats that live with her.
“I do things that make me feel alive a lot of the time, and then I’ll call my grief counselor and say, ‘I’m really struggling today to understand how she could leave me knowing this tour is happening and she’s not here to help me with this tour.’ And we’ll talk about that," said Judd. "So reaching out is absolutely key, and I’m better at it today than I was because I come from the martyr background of ‘I’m going to be fine.’ And I don’t agree with that anymore. And so I have my people to reach out to.”