The Truth About Wynonna And Naomi Judd's Relationship

The following article includes references to sexual assault and suicide.

Naomi and Wynonna Judd were the first mother-daughter duo, known as The Judds, to make it big in country music when they exploded on the music scene in 1983. As the story goes, The Judds were born after Naomi, who was a nurse in Nashville, Tennessee, at the time, shared a tape of her and Wynonna singing with a patient who just happened to work in the industry. One thing led to another and, as Wynonna put it, "I literally went from the outhouse to the White House" (via ABC News).

Along with Naomi's youngest daughter, actress Ashley Judd, The Judds experienced a lot of wonderful things in their lifetimes — but a lot of sorrow too. When Naomi died in late April 2022, Wynonna and Ashley lost a true pillar in their lives. Here's a look back at the loving yet complicated dynamic between Naomi and her oldest daughter Wynonna.

Naomi was abandoned by Wynonna Judd's father

The story of Naomi and Wynonna Judd was unhappy almost as soon as it began. As both parties have recounted, Wynonna's biological father, Charles Jordan, left Naomi nearly as soon as he found out she was pregnant, setting up both Naomi and Wynonna for hardship once the baby arrived. Naomi later told the New York Post that she got pregnant the very first time she had sex, which also happened the night she graduated high school. When she called Jordan to tell him the news, he simply replied, "Well, tough luck, kiddo."

Naomi quickly pivoted, marrying the next man she began a relationship with, Michael Ciminella. The family of three moved to Los Angeles, where Naomi and Ciminella welcomed their daughter, Ashley Judd. That relationship didn't work out, and Naomi soon found herself living paycheck to paycheck with two young girls (via the New York Post).

Wynonna said Naomi 'gave birth' to Ashley, but she essentially 'raised' her

In an interview on "Larry King Live" in 2005, Wynonna Judd opened up in a very deep way about what her childhood was like. After admitting to Larry King that she definitely defined herself as a latchkey kid — with a "key around my neck," as she said — the singer explained that she felt responsible for her younger sister Ashley Judd in a very real way. Because their mother had multiple jobs to keep things afloat, the two girls were often alone together.

Wynonna explained that she feels protective of Ashley, noting, "We were on welfare and so she was gone a lot and I kind of feel like I raised Ashley. I mean mom gave birth to her but she kind of belongs to me." In fact, she went on to add that the two were really "best friends" until Wynonna turned 18 and began touring with Naomi Judd. From that point, the relationship between the two sisters became fractured.

Naomi kept a huge secret from Wynonna for decades

Wynonna Judd and her sister Ashley Judd have two different biological fathers, but that fact wasn't shared with Wynonna for most of her life. In fact, Naomi Judd didn't tell her oldest daughter the truth until she was 30 years old. Wynonna explained to Oprah in 2006 that it took her a long time to get over that hurt. As she said, "The first thing I said was, 'It's okay.' And of course I'm raging inside ... and I've just now come to realize nine years later, I'm really angry."

Naomi also spoke to Oprah, explaining that she wanted Wynonna to have the same last name as the rest of the family but, in retrospect, not telling Wynonna the truth was a mistake. "I don't know that I thought about it every day of my life, but there were certainly very few days that I didn't live with this secret and I think it does something to a child," she said.

More bizarrely, Ashley Judd did know the truth about Wynonna's father, and told the former talk show host that she believes Wynonna was more damaged by her mother's lie than the reality of having a different biological father.

Naomi and Wynonna Judd were the perfect onstage pair

The musical duo The Judds, comprised of Wynonna and Naomi Judd, was enormously popular throughout the 1980s and the early 1990s. As Deadline reported, The Judds sold over 20 million albums. "Between 1984 and 1991, they had twenty Top Ten country hits, including fourteen #1s. During that time, the duo won five Grammys, nine Country Music Association awards, and seven Academy of Country Music awards," according to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Naomi's voice was the perfect compliment to her daughter's, and Wynonna shined as she took center stage. "Wynonna's voice — husky and expressive — gave the duo its edge," the Country Music Hall of Fame detailed. "The younger Judd could growl with blues intensity and articulate heartache with tender sensitivity." The mother and daughter only stopped touring in 1991 when Naomi was diagnosed with Hepatitis C. From there, Wynonna began performing and touring on her own (via Deadline).

The Judds had a '50/50' partnership despite Wynonna being the lead vocalist

After Naomi and Wynonna Judd scored an audition with RCA Records, the pair went on to become wildly successful, selling millions upon millions of albums and enjoying hit after hit. Wynonna later told Larry King on CNN's "Larry King Live" that despite their mother-daughter dynamic, things were pretty evenly split while the women were in the group.

She explained, saying, "She was 36. I was 18 and I was the lead voice but I relied on her so much. It was pretty 50/50." She went on to add that when it was time to pick music, she knew her strengths. Wynonna said, "That was the one place in my life when I'd go in the studio I really knew who I was. ... I had very little experience but boy when it came to strapping on the guitar and singing the notes, I knew who I was."

Wynonna struggled with the financial success of The Judds

Wynonna Judd was very open about the challenges she faced throughout her life. One aspect that was particularly challenging had to do with money, which became even more difficult to manage with Wynonna's fast and jarring transition from living with relatively little to living in abundance. As Wynonna told Good Morning America, "I traveled, I took friends, I rented jets. I loved the great rock star lifestyle." Her extreme spending got so serious that she ended up in rehab for money troubles.

In December 2003, Wynonna had been told she was facing bankruptcy and her team handed her a card with the name of Ted Klontz on it. Klontz was known for running the rehab center Onsite, and also went on to become an important part of the Judd family. According to Recovery Living, he was a family coach for Wynonna, her mother Naomi, and several of her family members.

Naomi wasn't always 'sympathetic' to Wynonna's struggles

While speaking to Oprah in 2006, Wynonna Judd explained that she began having a complicated relationship with food after her mom got divorced. She said, "I had been so alone those years of my life my parents were divorced that I would get so hungry, I would get panicky." By her own admission, after achieving success with The Judds at the age of 18, food became something comforting to Wynonna. She also said that she often compared herself to her mother and sister Ashley Judd, telling Oprah, "I'm standing there with mom and Ashley and I feel like I don't belong. I've never felt like I belonged." 

Naomi also spoke to Oprah about Wynonna's ongoing battles, admitting that she could have done more to support her oldest daughter but that she was ready to be there for her at the time. Naomi admitted that she "wasn't as sympathetic as [she] could have been." She continued, saying, "My prayer is that she's really going to be a detective in her life and she's going to step back and ask what's going on with her emotionally when she's headed for the kitchen."

Naomi said it was her and Wynonna 'against the world'

All of the Judd women have weathered enormous difficulty throughout their lives. The family has been open about those struggles, with Naomi Judd admitting to mental health difficulties and several traumatizing experiences with men, Wynonna Judd acknowledging that she has struggled with weight and body image, and Ashley Judd contending with sexual assault and rape. All of those experiences happened while the girls were growing up, which is something that Naomi later acknowledged and wished she could have been better at preventing.

Naomi admitted to making mistakes with her oldest daughter Wynonna, but she told CBS News that they were always a team, even when things were tough. As she put it, "From the day I knew she existed, it was the two of us against the world. Through the decades, we kind of grew up together and I'm always telling her, 'If I'd known better I would've done better."

Naomi admitted she and Wynonna were 'estranged' at times

While Naomi and Wynonna Judd clearly loved each other dearly, they were also pretty open and honest about their sometimes strained relationship. In fact, in 2016, Naomi opened up in a big way when she told Good Morning America that the twosome had spent a lot of time trying to mend their past shared wounds. She recounted, "Wy bore the brunt of all of the mistakes I made and we talk about 'em. We've been through a lot of therapy together" (via People).

Naomi went on to elaborate on the relationship she shared with her oldest daughter, admitting to Good Morning America that they often took time apart from each other. She explained, "I love her but there are just times we need a break from each other. We're still a little estranged from each other. And that happens with mother, daughters. If she sees this, and I hope she does, 'cause the smartest thing is for all of us to feel known, no matter what's goin' on." Naomi added that she believed her daughter would be proud of the interview, and in particular her mother's willingness to be so open.

Becoming a parent helped Wynonna understand Naomi better

If there is one thing that might have helped Naomi and Wynonna Judd's often complicated relationship, it's the fact that Wynonna also became a parent. The mom of two told The Sault Star that being a parent is humbling. As she put it, "The older I get, the smarter my mom gets and the dumber I get to my kids right now, because they think they know so much."

Wynonna went on to elaborate, saying that being a parent has given her a broader understanding of what her mother must have gone through and how she navigated different experiences and made decisions. Wynonna told the publication, "[Parenthood] has opened and broadened my horizon. It has definitely made me more compassionate, kinder, gentler, more loving and more supportive of [Naomi's] journey."

Wynonna Judd lost her mother in 2022

Country music fans around the world were stunned when the news broke of Naomi Judd's death in April 2022. Ashley Judd first shared the news of her mother's death on social media. "We lost our beautiful mother to the disease of mental illness," Ashley wrote in an Instagram post. "We are shattered. We are navigating profound grief and know that as we loved her" People later reported that Naomi died by suicide.

Wynonna and Ashley were faced with a surreal scenario the day after their mother's death was announced as they were tasked with inducting her into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Wynonna was particularly impacted, as she and Naomi were being inducted into the Hall of Fame together for their work as The Judds. As she put it during the ceremony, "I'm gonna make this fast, because my heart's broken, and I feel so blessed. It's a very strange dynamic, to be this broken and this blessed" (via CNN).

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.