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Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, July 6, 2000

File photo
Wynonna and Naomi Judd.


Naomi Judd leads a colorful life
and she loves the full
spectrum of it

By Tim Ryan


NAOMI Judd is sitting in her rural Tennessee home having her hair dyed a shade of red "that doesn't exist in nature."

"Black and white is boring," says Judd who performs with daughter Wynonna Saturday night at the Waikiki Shell. "We're constantly trying to stir people up, shake, rattle and stir, telling folks you have got to think in colors."

Judd's journey through life may be even more colorful than her hair. She got pregnant at 17, was physically abused by a boyfriend, worked as a registered nurse, became a country singing superstar, contracted hepatitis C, and now is a much sought-after lecturer.

"It sounds like I'm an expert in lots of things, but what I'm really good at is making mistakes," she said.


Bullet Who: "An Evening with the Judds"
Bullet When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Bullet Where: Waikiki Shell
Bullet Cost: $39.50, lawn seating, and $65
Bullet Call: 591-2211

This famous mother of two equally famous daughters, including actress Ashley Judd, discusses openly the most personal stages of what had been a tragic life.

She's in remission since contracting hepatitis C from a needle while working as a nurse. She was diagnosed with the potentially life-threatening liver disease in 1990.

"I'm so radiantly healthy now. I see colors and I live in the moment," said Judd. "The illness and the recovery has transformed my life."

And that's part of the reason for these mother-and-daughter reunion performances, which Judd calls the "Power to Change" tour.

"I'd been traveling with Wynonna on her solo tour being the proud mom, rubbing her feet after a show, just taking care of her," said Judd, 54. "Then last year, she talked to me about performing millennium eve."

Wynonna is a single mother of two children, Elijah, 5, and Grace, 4.

"The Judds' tour has been like getting on a train going 100 miles per hour," Wynonna said. "It's been an incredible ride -- bigger and better in some ways than I expected, but at the same time, I'd look at Mom and say, 'This is like a weird movie.'

"We'd sing at soundcheck and watch my kids run around and marvel at how weird it all was. A lot of critics came to the shows with the attitude of, 'Aw, another reunion. This is going to be gooey, gooey.' But, you know, we haven't gotten one bad review. The audiences have been right there for us. It's been great."

The duo took the stage for the first time in nine years in Phoenix, Ariz. Following the performance, they received thousands of letters from fans "begging" for one last tour.

"This really is the 'No Kidding It's Over Tour,' " Judd said. The tour ends in Virginia July 30.

Judd, the daughter of a gas station owner father and a riverboat cook mother in Ashland, Ky., got pregnant just before her senior year in high school.

"It was the first time I had sex," she said. "My little brother was dying of cancer and my parents were away at the hospital with him in another town.

Associated Press
Country singer Naomi Judd, right, is joined by her daughters,
singer Wynonna, left, and actress Ashley, during the 1998
Academy Awards show in Los Angeles.

"I was alone, taking care of my younger siblings. I was taken advantage of by an older boy who then vanished."

Judd was the town's "good girl," achieving honor role status in school, playing piano at the Baptist Church.

"I got my diploma in the mail the night I gave birth to Wynonna," Judd said.

Judd's parents would eventually divorce, her brother died, and Naomi married another boy in town to give Wynonna "a name and a home." But the shame and guilt she felt lasted another dozen years. It didn't help her self-esteem when her father later married a woman her age.

Judd and her husband left Kentucky for Los Angeles with another child on the way. The couple divorced, and Judd lived on food stamps while working at various waitressing jobs. Then she fell in love again.

"He turned out to be an ex-convict and used to beat me; one night he just about killed me and I escaped with the kids to a Santa Monica Boulevard motel. I didn't have a dime but the manager saw my black eyes and the kids in their pajamas and took pity on us."

Judd soon realized she had created her situation through poor choices.

"I'd been setting my own trap, attracting what I felt worthy of," she said.

Judd moved to Northern California to attend college to obtain a nursing degree; she also changed her name from Diana to Naomi and began dyeing her hair that famous red.

At the same time, Wynonna's creativity was developing rapidly.

"I could see that she enormously gifted; she had to be involved in something creative," Judd said. "She was the voice; I was the engine that made things happen."

"From the git-go" Wynonna was anxious to perform with mom then go on tour.

"I threatened to chloroform her and lock her in her room ... until she got her high school diploma," Judd said. "I was absolute about this and told her more than once to read my perfectly lined lips."

While tending a hospitalized relation of a RCA record producer, Judd elicited an audition in the company's boardroom. With a hick surname and a past that read like a Judith Krantz novel, the executives believed the Judds had a good chance in the country market.

An exploratory mini-album, which contained the hit "John Deere Tractor," peaked at No. 17. Naomi Judd was 37.

The duo's incredible popularity kept them undefeated for eight straight years at all three major country music award shows and they received six Grammys.

"Country music is the poetry of the common man," Judd says.

In 1988, the Judds became the first female country act to found its own booking agency, Pro-Tours, but poor health forced Naomi to retire from the concert stage two years later. At first, Judd couldn't tell her husband about her affliction because "There's this false belief in my family that I am queen of everything." Therapy eventually broke down her state of denial.

"I'm a poster child for therapy," said Judd, who's been married since 1989.

She said she's so excited about visiting Hawaii that she's learned how to spell Waikiki.

"My skin is so white I wear sunblock No. 80. But I'm gonna get a bright red parasol to hold over me when I wear that red bikini."

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