In Ken Burns’ excellent documentary film, “Country Music”, Waylon Jennings, one of the best known singers, is quoted as saying that country music is “Three Chords and the Truth”. Unfortunately, however, one of the “truths” is that many country music singers and musicians have experienced tragic personal lives. One example of this is the Judd family. Naomi Judd, one half of the famous duo The Judds, took her own life this past April, the night before she was to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Mrs. Judd had made a Will in 2017. It appears now that her daughter, Wynonna, will challenge that Will. Arguably, a tragedy within a tragedy.
Naomi Judd was born Dianne Ellen Judd, in 1946, in Ashland, Kentucky (she changed her first name as a young Mother). She had two daughters. Her first, Wynonna Judd (born Christina Claire Ciminella) was born in 1964. Her second daughter, Ashley Judd, was born in 1968. Naomi was then in Nursing School and had started singing. Her marriage did not last and, for most of her daughters’ younger years, Naomi was a single parent.
In the early 1980’s, Naomi and Wynonna formed a duo and were performing regularly. They signed a recording contract in 1983 with RCA, in Nashville.
The duo achieved tremendous success. Their first album was released in 1984, reaching no. 8 on the on the Billboard Top country albums. In late 1984, their first Studio Album, Why Not Me, was released. It reached no. 1 and it sold more than 2 million copies.
The next year, the Judds’ second Studio Album, Rockin’ With the Rhythm, was released. Four no. 1 hits are on that Album, (which topped the Billboard Country Albums chart), including Grandpa (Tell Me ‘Bout the Good Old Days). In 1987, their third Studio Album, Heartland, was released. This Album also reached no. 1 and sold to Platinum. Three hits from that Album reached no. 1 on the country hits chart.
The Judds were by then extremely popular. In 1988 they released a Greatest Hits album. In 1989, the Judds released another Studio Album, River of Time. This Album also achieved great success, including two songs which reached number 1 on the Country charts. That same year, Naomi married Larry Strickland, a member of a State Quartet. They remained married until Naomi died.
In 1990, Naomi retired, following a diagnosis of Hepatitis C. The duo’s final Album, Love Can Build a Bridge, was released, producing four hit singles (including Born to be Blue). The Album also went Platinum.
Wynonna, meanwhile, continued a successful solo career. In 2000, the Judds reunited and released a live Album, Big Band Boogie. In 2011, the duo did their final tour and released a compilation Album I will Stand by You: The Essential Collection.
There were many other albums, through the 1990’s and even one in 2022, titled Love Can Build a Bridge; Best of the Judds.
It was not all “smooth sailing”, however. Wynonna, having achieved fame “overnight”, struggled to manage the income she was earning. In 2004, she entered a treatment facility for a “money disorder”.
In addition, the two Sisters, Ashley (a successful Actress) and Wynonna, were not close. In 2012, Wynonna married country singer Cactus Moser but did not invite her Mother nor her Sister to the Wedding.
Naomi suffered for many years from Depression, which worsened following the final Tour the duo made, in 2011.
Following Naomi’s death, death records were sealed from the public, by Court Order at the request of the family.
Naomi died leaving an Estate valued at approximately $25 million. Mr. Strickland is named Executor. The two daughters are apparently not mentioned in the Will, although there is some information suggesting that a Trust was established for them while Naomi was alive. It is also not clear (yet) who is beneficiary of the Estate.
Wynonna appears to believe that her Mother and her Sister “conspired” against her in leaving her out of the Will. Ashley is, apparently, not seeking to challenge the Will.
From my brief research, I found that Tennessee law does not appear to have Wills variation legislation. It is, however, possible for an existing beneficiary to change her or his bequest, to allow some or all of it to go to another person. It is unclear, then, how Wynonna will challenge the Will.
This is a very heartbreaking story. Certainly, having celebrity status does not bring immunity from life’s challenges. Naomi Judd made something spectacular of her life, from a humble start. Wynonna, talented as she is, also has obviously struggled in her adult life, trying to handle her success. There is no evidence to suggest that Naomi, when she made her Will in 2017, was incapacitated or the subject of any undue influence. It is difficult to assume this will end well but one hopes that such a talented family can heal. Otherwise, stay tuned.