Cherishing the memories. After Naomi Judd’s April 2022 death, the country singer’s loving family will hold their special moments with her in their hearts.
Wynonna Judd and Ashley Judd revealed their mother’s death in a statement on April 30. “Today we sisters experienced a tragedy,” they said in a joint message, shared via Twitter. “We lost our beautiful mother to the disease of mental illness. 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 had a high school romance with Charles Jordan, a football player, and she got pregnant at 17. The father skipped town, so she married another classmate, Michael Ciminella, in 1964. Naomi gave birth to Wynonna (born Christina Claire Ciminella) in June of that year, forcing her to miss her graduation ceremony.
The new family moved from Kentucky to Los Angeles in 1968, the year Ashley was born. Naomi and Ciminella divorced in 1972, and Naomi moved the family back to her home state. The single mom struggled to raise her daughters while starting her career as a nurse, living without TV or a phone line. After a few years of harmonizing with her eldest, Naomi moved the girls to Nashville and scored a record deal for The Judds.
“Wynonna and I couldn’t talk to each other, but, low and behold, we could sing together,” Naomi recalled to in Ken Burns’ Country Music documentary. “Their songs were not just a balm between the two of us, but they were teaching Wynonna the history of country music.”
After Naomi and Wynonna retired as The Judds in 1991, the singer stayed close to her mother as did the Heat actress. Naomi explained in a 2014 episode of Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen that her daughters still lived very close to her.
Both Wynonna and Ashley expressed their reverence for the family matriarch.
“I embrace every day how fortunate I am to have a mother who is so proud of me and supports my every endeavor, my voice, leadership, and courage,” Ashley wrote in a January 2020 tribute to her mother via Instagram. “Whether she is hugging me and telling me how beautiful I was to her when I was born (and what a brown little baby I was) or telling me what an extraordinary woman I am today, or holding my hand in church, or picking me up from the airport (an endless errand) she is loving me well today and I am keenly aware of it.”
In 2010, Wynonna, who had many periods of estrangement from her mother over the years, told The Sault Star that she was working on praising her mom more, having developed more empathy after raising her own children, son Elijah (born December 1994) and daughter Grace (born January 1996), who she shares with ex-husband Arch Kelley III.
“I think for a long time, she felt like a loner raising two babies in the wilderness,” the singer said. “I think giving her that validation and affirmation has really become my new thing and patting her on the head and saying, ‘You know mom, you’re a good mom.’”
Naomi had simple advice for parents when she spoke to a Houston PBS affiliate in November 2021.
“[Parents should give kids] their time. That’s why I took them to the mountaintop in Kentucky without any stimulation,” she explained. “Like I said, without a TV or a telephone, and while we were planting a garden, while we were taking care of animals and hunting ginseng in the woods, sitting on the front porch, watching a storm come in from that mountain top, finding their ancestral roots — just the simple day-to-day things that give shape and definition to life, I guarantee you, the girls will say that was a magical time in their life.”
She added, “But also — and I learned this too late — if there was one thing I could change, it would be to listen more.”
In addition to her two daughters and two grandchildren, the late River of Time author is survived by her husband Larry Strickland, who she married in 1989.
“We come from common backgrounds,” Naomi told Closer in 2013. “Larry and I are both from a family of six, very blue-collar. He worked in the tobacco fields every summer. My daddy had his own gas station and taught me the hard-work ethic. Larry is the most humble person I’ve ever met.”
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Scroll down for photos of the Judd family through the years: