ASHLAND During the 1970s, at least one local country music radio station refused to play back-to-back songs recorded by female artists. An outspoken mother/daughter duo from Ashland probably didn’t care for that rule.
Diana Judd and her daughter, Christine, changed their names to Naomi and Wynonna in 1979 and soon had the world singing their songs.
“We’re just two red-headed country girls. Our story is just not normal,” Naomi Judd said in People weekly in 1984, a year later adding, “I’ve laid awake at night wondering how I was going to put food in the kids’ bellies.”
Judd didn’t have that problem growing up in a lovely home near Ashland’s Central Park with three younger siblings, Margaret, Mark and Brian, who had Hodgkin’s disease and passed away when she was a teenager. Her father, Charles Glenn Judd, operated Judd’s Ashland Oil and her mother, Pauline “Polly” Judd, would sometimes work with her daughter at Hamburger Inn, owned by Polly’s parents. Polly later worked as a cook on an Ashland Oil barge and become an Ashland city commissioner.
After earning a nursing degree from Eastern Kentucky University in 1979, Judd moved to Tennessee, near Nashville. Wynonna graduated from Franklin High School and worked as a secretary while her mother was busy on Nashville’s Music Row trying to get record companies interested in Wynonna.
Naomi Judd met record producer Brent Maher, who had produced hit records for Elvis Presley, and asked him to listen to a tape of the two of them. Maher is said to have randomly picked up the tape while driving and was motivated to arrange a rare live audition for RCA’s Nashville President Joe Galante, setting their musical careers on the path to fame.
The Judds released a mini-LP tiled “The Judds-Wynonna and Naomi” in late 1983 and their first single, a remake of Presley’s 1976 record “For the Heart,” was renamed “Had a Dream about You Baby,” and made it into the Top 20. Their next single “Mama He’s Crazy,” went to No. 1 in August 1984. Their album “Why Not Me” was a huge success in 1985.
When The Judds opened a week’s worth of Statler Brothers shows, Naomi said the first show in Omaha, was the first time they’d worked with a band. The Judds made a major achievement when their name was announced by Tammy Wynette as the winner of the Horizon Award (best new act) at the 1984 CMA Awards.
Twenty years before their first hit and their new names, Naomi Judd was active in many organizations at Paul G. Blazer High School, when she married Michael Ciminella. Ciminella was from Ashland and graduated high school from a military academy.
Wynonna was born the week Naomi graduated from Blazer in 1964. The family moved to Los Angeles in 1968 and Judd worked as a secretary for the Fifth Dimension, appeared in “More American Graffiti” and a Doors music video, and worked as a model. She met former Huntington resident Ralph Pierre LaCock, better known as Peter Marshall, when she was a champion on his show “Hollywood Squares.” She won on “Password,” passing clues back and forth with Rat Pack member and President John F. Kennedy’s brother-in-law Peter Lawford.
The young couple remained married for eight years and divorced before their daughter, Ashley (Blazer Class of 1986), was born in California. In 1976 she and her daughters moved to Jackson County and she attended EKU to finish the nursing training she began in California. During that time, Wynonna was teaching herself to play guitar.
“I started singing, and Mom’d be doin’ chores and she’s start singing lower harmony. We’d sit around the supper table and just sing to pass the time,” she said.
The personality-plus Judds were soon in high demand, with numerous television guest appearances and their own special on CBS in 1989. They also performed before presidents Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and had tremendous response to their first appearance on “Oprah” in 1990. Wynonna, Naomi and Ashley were fan favorites on “Oprah” and appeared on her show in different combinations 17 more times.
The Judds’ “Love Can Build a Bridge” was also a success, preceding an announcement in late 1990 proclaiming the end of The Judds. Naomi later said she’d been diagnosed with chronic active hepatitis, a severe liver ailment.
The Judd family also narrowly dodged a bullet in 1988 when Ashley was a French major at the University of Kentucky. The youngest Judd was scheduled to be on Pan Am Flight 103 after spending the fall semester in France, but instead missed boarding by 20 minutes, and was not on the jet downed in a terrorist attack near Lockerbie, Scotland that claimed the lives of all 259 on board and 11 others on the ground.
People weekly’s December 1991 cover was a photo of The Judds, captioned, “The Judds Tearful Goodbye.” A Country Weekly cover in 1995 featured a four generation photo with Wynonna, her baby Elijah, Naomi and Polly. Naomi was in Ashland when the photo was taken during Independence Day week to sign autographs for the Ashland Breakfast Kiwanis Club’s canned food drive. Naomi contributed $10,000 and Wynonna joined Naomi signing autographs.
That night, Naomi appeared before 25,000 fans at Summer Motion’s David Ball and Lari White concerts, and spoke that Sunday at Ashland’s First Baptist Church.
The Judds had four No. 1 albums, six platinum albums and 14 No. 1 singles including eight straight No. 1’s from 1984-86. They won numerous awards, including five Grammys, eight Billboard Music awards, Academy of Country Music Top Vocal Duo of the Year every year from 1984-1990, nine Country Music Association awards including CMA Top Vocal Duo of the Year each year from 1985-1991.
When Naomi retired, she and Wynonna had become the most commercially successful duo in country music history.
Wynonna will perform at the Paramount Arts Center tonight, with an opening performance by Pete Scobell starting at 7:30.