Naomi and Wynonna Judd, the five-time Grammy-winning mother-daughter duo who dominated the country music charts in the ’80s, are embarking on their Last Encore tour with the first show taking place Friday (Nov. 26) in Green Bay, Wis.
The duo, whose 14 No. 1 singles include “Mama He’s Crazy,” “Why Not Me,” “Grandpa (Tell Me ’Bout the Good Old Days)” and “Have Mercy,” are again rocking with the rhythm of the road. In fact, what began as an 18-date tour has now been extended into 2011.
But this isn’t the first farewell tour for the Judds. In 1991, following Naomi’s shocking diagnosis with the life-threatening hepatitis C, the two traveled throughout the U.S. in what many thought may be their last tour. Now, nearly 20 years later, Naomi is a fully recovered “medical miracle,” as she likes to call herself, and a best-selling author. Wynonna, who has gone on to become a bona fide superstar in her own right, has topped the charts with hits like “I Saw the Light” and “No One Else on Earth.”
Now, with health and happiness on their sides, the two are ready to once again pound the pavement for another musical journey together.
“Music is the great unifier,” Naomi told CMT.com during a recent interview in Nashville. “People will say, ’Music makes my hair stand up on end or I get a tingle down my spine.’ Well … that’s real.”
With her porcelain skin, pink dress and coordinating sparkling stilettos (the same ones she wore earlier this year on Oprah), she sat smiling alongside her daughter. Wy, dressed from head to toe in black, was striking with her vibrant red locks dangling down her back. Together, the sassy, yet tenderhearted, duo seemed to feed off each other as they finished one another’s sentences.
“You can go all day and be in a real negative place,” Wynonna said. “And then you can hear that song, and it just changes your whole physical, spiritual and mental ability to have faith almost.”
With all of their previous experience in the spotlight, the Judds are more than familiar with the powerful effects of music. In fact, one of the strongest motivations to return to the stage is a direct result of last year’s CMA Music Festival in Nashville. With 50,000 fans welcoming them onstage at LP Field, singing the words to every Judds song, the two were swept away by that magical June evening.
Admittedly, Wynonna was hesitant at first about stepping out onstage that night, unsure of how the crowd may receive them.
“I didn’t quite know how it was going to happen because there are so many younger artists,” she said. “You know, I’m at that age where I’m going, ’I’m really grateful to have a seat at the table.’ It’s not a pitiful thing. It’s a humble thing — and there’s a difference between arrogance and confidence.
“When you hit 46, you get to a place where you just realize what the real deal is — OK? There are plenty of girl singers who could take your place. Maybe they don’t sing like you, but they can certainly do the work, right? So, I’m really in a grateful place.”
As they walked out onstage and began performing, Wynonna remembers looking over at her mother, who was having a delightful time. At that moment, she decided to hold out the microphone for the fans. Would they sing back? Would they know the words?
“I thought, ’I’m just going to go with it, God, and see how I feel in that moment,'” she said, looking to the ceiling as she relived the story. “And I did. I just put it out there. And I’ll be darned if all that came back. It was such an affirmation, if you will.
“I was levitating like three feet off the ground,” she went on, comparing the thrill to an athlete’s glory moment in sports. “It took me a day or so to come off of that high because it was so out-of-body. It was so much bigger than I can even explain and yet it was so real.
“And that’s what country music is,” she declared. “It was all those people collectively standing there. I don’t care what bracket they fall into tax-wise — rich or poor, black and white, gay, straight — everybody was singing. And so to me, it’s the closest thing we can get to heaven on Earth — where there are no boundaries.”
At this point, Naomi chimed in, “I say it’s the window to heaven, the breath of God.”
Naomi also believes this harmony between music and fans comes from the words that belong to particular songs. For example, their newest single, “I Will Stand by You,” is a vow of devotion, a message of loyalty. Explaining her interpretation of the song, she said, “I can’t cure AIDS. I can’t do anything about the famine in Darfur. I can’t make the gulf oil spill go away. But you know what? I’m going to show up for you, and that’s a commitment.”
Naomi attributes the duo’s unwavering popularity to their transparency and storytelling.
“Even I’ve been divorced, and I’ve been down that road to hell and back,” Wynonna interjected. “I’ve always sang about the ideal because I was always striving to get myself out of that shame or out of that place of being victim.”
“We are willing to share our stories,” Naomi said. “I like to think that people are perhaps seeing something of themselves in us — so they’re kind of rooting us on. That’s my prayer.”