On New Year’s Day 1990, Naomi Judd was battling illness. Eleven days later, the day after her 44th birthday, Judd learned she had hepatitis. She was formally diagnosed with chronic active hepatitis in March, but the world at large would not find out about the diagnosis – and its startling repercussions – for another 10 months. But on October 17th, on a gray and rainy afternoon in Nashville, Naomi stunned the room full of reporters, telling them, “Today is pretty much the most difficult day of my life. I have to resign. I must retire from the music industry I love so much.”
The press conference took place in the same room at Nashville’s RCA Records where Naomi and daughter Wynonna had auditioned for the label. They would go on to become the most successful country-music duo of the Eighties and one of the best-selling duos of all time.
At that same emotional press conference, Wynonna announced she was postponing her upcoming marriage (which ultimately never took place) and that she would release her first solo LP for MCA Records, which she did, to great acclaim (and sales in excess of five million), in March 1992. But first, the mother-daughter team embarked on a Farewell Tour, throughout 1991, with one of their opening acts a rapidly rising performer named Garth Brooks. On December 4th, 1991, the pair gave their final concert before calling it quits, at Murphy Center outside Nashville. The epic goodbye was performed as a live pay-per-view special and went on to be one of the most watched pay-per-view events of all time.
Earlier in 1991, the Judds, who were the CMA Vocal Group/Duo from 1985 to 1991, and had, to date, earned four Grammy awards, made their final appearance on the Grammy telecast, singing the song that closed their Farewell Concert. “Love Can Build a Bridge,” co-written by Naomi with Paul Overstreet and John Barlow Jarvis, missed the Number One spot – unlike more than a dozen of the duo’s hits – but has gone on to country-classic status and been covered by numerous artists. The sweeping tune, performed in the above clip, also gave its name to Naomi’s autobiography and the made-for-TV movie about the duo’s rise to stardom. The song was the title cut from the duo’s last full-length studio LP.
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With Naomi’s health restored, the Judds have hit the road again in recent years to tour a few times, including a nine-show stint in Las Vegas at the Venetian in 2015.