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Naomi Judd
Naomi Judd
Profile of Naomi Judd Biography of Naomi Judd Interview with Naomi Judd Naomi Judd Photo Gallery

Naomi Judd Biography

Country Music Artist and Social Advocate

Naomi Judd Date of birth: January 11, 1946

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  Naomi Judd

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Naomi Judd was born Diana Ellen Judd in Ashland, Kentucky. She was the oldest daughter of Glen, a gas station owner, and Polly, a riverboat cook. A voracious reader and sensitive child, Naomi felt compelled to provide aid whenever she saw someone in need. She orchestrated neighborhood pet funerals and brought schoolbooks to a sick friend, ignoring her own risk of becoming ill. She developed her fundamental self-identity in the beautiful Appalachian Mountains of Eastern Kentucky, which inspired a life-long connection to nature and the spirit.

In 1963, Naomi's life took a difficult turn that would last for over a decade. Her younger brother, Brian, was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease, and while her parents focused on their son's out-of-town hospital stays, Naomi became the center of stability for her younger siblings. Brian did not survive his battle with cancer, and later that year, her parents divorced. Naomi, an honor student who played piano at the local Baptist church, found herself pregnant as she entered her senior year in high school. Daughter Christina Claire was born on May 30, 1964, and although he was not the baby's biological father, Michael Ciminella married Naomi, giving newborn Christina his surname. Naomi received her high school diploma in the mail on the day of her daughter's birth.

Naomi Judd Biography Photo
Four years later, the young family moved from Kentucky to Granada Hills, California, where a second daughter, Ashley, was born on April 19, 1968. Judd and Ciminella's marriage dissolved in 1972, and single mother Naomi, working as a waitress, required public assistance to support her two children. Compounding the already-tough circumstances was an abusive boyfriend who, according to Naomi, "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."

Naomi Judd Biography Photo
By 1976, Christina was experiencing a turbulent adolescence in fast-paced Los Angeles, and the relationship between mother and daughter was disintegrating into routine fighting and frustration. Financially and emotionally drained, Naomi decided to take the girls back to the small town of Morrill, Kentucky, and the tranquil lifestyle of Appalachia. She moved them into a small cottage on the top of a mountain, without telephone or television, where her children could re-connect with nature and their Appalachian heritage. Ready for a fresh start, mother and oldest daughter both took new first names. Mom changed her own given name, Diana, to Naomi from her favorite Bible story. Christina chose the name Wynonna, because it sounded like the Arizona town mentioned in one of her favorite songs, "Route 66." When a family friend gave the Judds an old guitar, daughter Wynonna fell in love with the instrument. To strengthen their relationship, Naomi began singing with her daughter. The pair found that their voices blended naturally. Music became an important part of their relationship, and Naomi began writing songs as well.

Naomi Judd Biography Photo
The return to Kentucky had allowed Naomi to get back on her feet, and after three years of life in the country, mother and daughters relocated to Marin County in Northern California. Naomi enrolled in nursing school while working as a waitress at night. After obtaining her nursing degree in 1979, the family moved again, this time to Franklin, Tennessee, where she found work as an intensive care nurse and midwife. She thrived in the caretaker role and found working one-on-one with patients especially rewarding.

Naomi and Wynonna had continued their singing and songwriting. In 1983, a patient of Naomi's arranged for the Judds to audition for RCA Records in Nashville. Remarkably, the mother-daughter duo, who had never performed in public before, were offered a recording contract with RCA, the top label in country music. The recording contract brought tour dates and cash flow into their lives, but separated the singing Judds from Ashley, who lived with her father during the school year while Naomi and Wynonna were on tour.

Naomi Judd Biography Photo
Audience response to The Judds was immediate and enthusiastic. Their first hit single, "Mama He's Crazy," came in August 1984. They finished the year with a Grammy Award for Best Country Performance by a Duo. In 1985, they completed 260 tour dates, and their album, Why Not Me, went double platinum. By 1991, The Judds had sold over 20 million records worldwide -- including six platinum albums -- and had earned five Grammy Awards, nine Country Music Association Awards and eight Billboard Music Awards. Along the way, Naomi fell in love with Larry Strickland, a former back-up singer for Elvis Presley, whom she married in 1989.

The country music world loved The Judds. Their fans identified with Naomi's struggle from troubled beginnings, and her devotion to changing her life's course and that of her daughters. The Judds' success was phenomenal, but in 1990, they made a shocking announcement: Naomi had been diagnosed with Hepatitis C, a viral liver disorder, probably contracted from a needle prick while she was working as a nurse. Her doctors gave her only three years to live, and she retired from performance to concentrate on fighting her illness. The news of her decision to retire from the spotlight reached far beyond the country music scene.

Naomi Judd Biography Photo
Naomi underwent treatment for Hepatitis C, while reading extensively in an effort to become her own expert on remedy options, trials and self-empowerment. Meanwhile, Wynonna launched a soaring solo career, and made Naomi a grandmother -- to Elijah in 1994, and to Grace in 1996. Naomi's younger daughter, Ashley, was also enjoying acclaim as a motion picture actress. By 1998, Naomi had outlived her doctor's predictions, and experienced a complete recovery, for which she gave credit to her faith in God.

Naomi Judd had battled and survived a near-fatal illness, and by the new millennium, she was planning for her future. The Judds announced a reunion tour, "The Power to Change," in 1999, which officially brought the duo back to performing together. Naomi alluded to her connection with nature and spirit in describing the emotional experience: "All of a sudden, here I am in this light, feeling Wynonna's hand, standing up against her, feeling her warm body. It was like a butterfly breaking out of the cocoon again." Naomi had captured the heart of country music lovers long before her retirement, and her return to the stage with Wynonna was an electrifying celebration of life and the power of the human spirit.

In recent years, Naomi Judd has become a pioneering leader of charitable organizations, including the Naomi Judd Research Fund to find a cure for Hepatitis C. Her passionate efforts as an advocate of Hepatitis C research have led her to testify before Congress on Capitol Hill. Additionally, she is a New York Times best-selling author, for Naomi's Guide to Aging Gratefully; she hosts a weekly television program, Naomi's New Morning, which focuses on spiritual inspiration combined with a common-sense approach to everyday challenges; and she is in high demand on the speaking circuit, where she talks openly about her struggles, mistakes and spirituality. She and her daughters each have homes in a section of the Tennessee countryside that they call Peaceful Valley.

This page last revised on Oct 24, 2007 16:58 EDT
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