One day after Naomi Judd’s death, her daughters Wynonna and Ashley took the stage at the Country Music Hall of Fame to pay tribute to their mother and celebrate the induction of Naomi and Wynonna’s mother-daughter duo, the Judds. Also being inducted at the ceremony were the late Ray Charles, drummer Eddie Bayers, and the late pedal steel player Pete Drake.
Wynonna summed up the surreal, heartbreaking nature of the moment during her speech when she said, “It’s a strange dynamic to be this broken and this blessed… But though my heart is broken, I will continue to sing, because that’s what we do.”
Still, Wynonna’s speech started with a moment of tender levity, as she admitted that she hadn’t prepared much of a speech for the ceremony in the first place because “I knew Mom would probably talk the most.” She continued with an array of thank-yous to the Judds’ various friends, peers, and collaborators, then spoke about her final moments with her mother.
“At 2:20, I kissed her on the forehead and walked away,” Wynonna said. “The last thing we did together as a family, with her, was… we all gathered around her and we said, ‘The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.’” Wynonna and Ashley then recited the rest of Psalm 23 together, holding hands as they said the final lines, “My cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Prior to Wynonna’s speech, Ashley pushed through tears as she remarked to the crowd, “My momma loved you so much, and she appreciated your love for her. And I’m sorry that she couldn’t hang on until today. Your esteem for her, and your regard for her, really penetrated her heart and it was your affection for her that did keep her going in these last years.”
There was another flash of lightheartedness when Ashley took a moment to celebrate her sister, calling her a “G.O.A.T.” and asking Wynonna if she knew what that meant while Wynonna looked at the crowd and quipped, “What?”
“I don’t think she knows I’m calling her the ‘Greatest of All Time,’” Ashley continued. “She lives on a farm. She’s being a little literal.”
Ashley then shared an array of musical memories from her and Wynonna’s childhood, from Wynonna playing The Pink Panther theme on piano, to listening to Wynonna and Naomi harmonize Alice Gerrard and Hazel Dickens songs, to squabbling over Joni Mitchell lyrics. “I’ve always been so proud of the music, and so proud of you,” Ashley told Wynonna, “but perhaps never so much as when you walked out on stage with Steven Tyler. Or with U2.”
Ashley continued: “So I know that we’re talking a lot about Mom tonight, as we should be — our beautiful mother. And I want you [Wynonna] to know that you are also being inducted into the Hall of Fame tonight. And newspapers don’t get much right these days, but when the Los Angeles Times said you were ‘Elvis-like’ they got it right.”
Naomi Judd died Saturday, April 30, at the age of 76. No exact cause of death was given, but Ashley wrote on Twitter, “We lost our beautiful mother to the disease of mental illness. We are shattered. We are navigating profound grief and know that as we loved her, she was loved by her public.”