Country music icon Wynonna kicked off her Back to Wy Tour in late October and the Country Music Hall of Famer has a message for her fans: “Don’t lose heart. With everything going on in the world right now, I’m working hard at being better and not bitter,” Wynonna Judd told Woman’s World in a wide-ranging conversation this fall that covered grappling with grief, and finding more hope and joy.
But the 59-year-old “No One Else on Earth” singer also admits it’s often hard to maintain a positive spirit. “As a grandmother, I look at my granddaughter and I see hope in her sweet little face and then I go read something on the internet and think, ‘Well crap!’” Wynonna reveals with a laugh.
Wynonna tries hard not to let life keep her down for very long, but she has been dealt some tough blows, the most heartbreaking of which being the loss of her mother Naomi Judd, when she died by suicide in 2022.
“I know that I’m not terminally unique, but dang it, I sure feel like I’m a target [for heartache],” Wynonna Judd reveals about her grief and the hard knocks she’s taken. “I probably am [a target] because I talk so much about my faith, and we all know how that works: The more you talk about your faith, the more you get hit with stuff to try to ruin that idea that there is a God and a higher power.”
Here, the five-time Grammy Award-winner opens up about how she grapples with the pain of losing her mother, Wynonna’s sweet and funny memories of Naomi and what keeps her moving forward.
Wynonna’s greatest heartbreak
During the interview, the conversation frequently turns to Wynonna’s mom, Naomi, who had been her musical partner in the groundbreaking country duo, The Judds.
Together they had become one of the most successful acts — in any genre of music, selling more than 20 million records — before Naomi had to retire after being diagnosed with hepatitis C in 1991. By 2000, with Naomi’s health restored, the duo hit the road again together on the Power to Change Tour and they had been performing together as much as they could.
But on April 30, 2022, one day before they were to both be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, Naomi took her own life in her home.
“I could make a lot of comments and make it sound like I’m so strong and I could say a bunch of crap. But It’s been over a year, and I still feel today like I did the day I got the phone call to come to mother’s house,” Wynonna Judd admits, the devastation and grief still clear in her voice.
“The truth is, honestly, it was the music that got me through that time,” Wynonna shares of how she coped with the tragedy and loss. “I don’t know anything else that’s more powerful… other than my faith in God.”
Following her mother’s death, Wynonna honored the original tour dates she and her mom had booked for the summer of 2022. “The Judd’s Tribute Tour saved my life because all that stuff happens to you, the pain, it just takes your breath away — it takes your ability to think and process anything because you are numb,” she describes. “But on stage, though I am still in this moment of grieving, this music is healing me.”
Wynonna also felt Naomi was there with her her every step of the way. “I’d be on stage during soundcheck, and I would see [my mom] on the video behind me,” Wynonna says of preparing for the shows. “One of the first things I remember about the tribute tour was we had rehearsal and I heard Mom’s voice. I turned around and just out of knee jerk response, I said, ‘Mom, I’ve lost 20 pounds!’ Everybody cracked up because she’s wasn’t really there… but I’m still talking to her.”
Wynonna Judd moving through grief: “It’s okay to cry”
As Wynonna Judd rode the waves of grief over losing Naomi, she says she’s learned valuable lessons. “I’ve accepted that I cry a lot and it’s okay to cry and it’s okay to say no,” she reveals. “So many times, we feel like there’s a schedule in our grief and we say, ‘Okay it’s been six months, you’ve had enough time.’ But the grieving process takes a lot of time.”
She’s also learned that you can’t go around grief, you have to go through it. “If I don’t cry and I don’t process my grief then I’m going to end up regretting it and that it’s going to show up somewhere in a relationship or a business deal,” she explains. “I remind myself that it’s okay to feel and I say to myself, ‘Look, you are blessed. You have so much to be grateful for.'”
However, Wynonna also credits her faith in God for her resilience and pulling her through tough times. “I’m constantly reminded by things here on the farm,” she says of the moments in her life that help her feel God’s presence. “I go down to the lake and I just sit there and listen to the crickets and the frogs. I know that’s corny, but I’m reminded that the farm has four seasons, and it reminds me to look for the next season if I’m in a hard one.”
Wynonna continues, “When Mom died and it was spring, I kept thinking, ‘You know what? Summer is coming and I can put little Kaliyah [her granddaughter] in the pool.’ I just try to look to that next season, I know it will always come.”
Wynonna’s memories of Naomi: “What a character!”
To help turn tears into joy, Wynonna now fondly remembers silly and sweet things her mom used to say and do. “She was always curious about my makeup and would comment if I was wearing too much lip liner,” Wynonna recalls with a smile. “She would also come over and check my moles under my bra strap and I’d be like, ‘Mother, I know you are a nurse, but back off.’ She was just that way.”
Wynonna says Naomi also had hilarious sayings that constantly made her laugh. “This is really hillbilly, she would say things like, ‘Add more water to the soup, better days are coming.’ My mother said crap like that all the time. She was always making jokes,” Wynonna laughs. “I also remember walking to the stage and her telling me, ‘Never watch sausage being made.’ We’re about to take on this major emotional moment and she’s telling me that.”
“What a character she was! She was always telling me stuff like, ‘Don’t swim with boys, sperm floats,’” Wynonna recalls with another chuckle. “That’s my mother.”
Moving forward with hope: “I’m bringing spandex back!”
Today, Wynonna is continuing to heal through the music she shared with her mother. In addition to the Back to Wy tour — which goes through December 1st and is scheduled for 13 cities including Austin, Birmingham, Knoxville, Dallas and San Antonio — Wynonna is hosting Christmas at the Opry Dec. 7 on NBC.
The award-winning singer/songwriter is also working on a new album. “It’s really painful, but it’s necessary to go through this kind of record,” Wynonna says. “This is a very personal record because of what happened with Mother and I’m writing songs that I’ve never said some of the things that I’m saying.”
Wynonna reveals, “I’m somewhere between hell and hallelujah most days and I put that in a song called ‘Broken and Blessed.’ The new music is coming, the tour is coming, I’m going to bring spandex back.”
What Wynonna is looking forward to most? Entertaining her fans, and thanking them for their support all these years. “We have resurrected the fan club after 20 years and the fans are coming in full force and it’s overwhelming,” she says. “I wrote a letter to the fan club saying that, ‘Now that mom is gone, you all are my family of choice.’”
“I look out in the audience, and I see that fan that’s been there since 1984 and I know them by their first name, and it means so much in a world that’s so negative and full of hopelessness,” she smiles. “I’m going to immerse myself in the vast glow of that love — it just heals my heart a little more every time.”
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