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Naomi Judd’s Life Celebrated During Emotional Memorial Service

17 May 2022 | 12:39 pm | Staff Writer

Vale Naomi Judd (January 11, 1946 – April 30, 2022)

The Judds

The Judds (Image: via Facebook)

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TRIGGER WARNING: The following article may distress some readers. If you need assistance, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636.

Naomi Judd, from the mother-daughter duo The Judds, was celebrated with words and soaring music at a public memorial service on Sunday, May 15, just two weeks after the singer’s death.

Aired live on CMT (US) from Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, and hosted by Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts, Naomi Judd: A River Of Time Celebration featured performances by Emmylou Harris and Allison Russell (The Sweetest Gift (A Mother’s Smile)), Martina McBride (Love Is Alive), Little Big Town (Grandpa (Tell Me ‘Bout the Good Old Days), Jamey Johnson (John Deere Tractor) and Brad Paisley (Young Love (Strong Love)). The Gaither Vocal Band performed How Beautiful Heaven Must Be, with Ashley saying, “it was Mum’s request that they sing tonight.”

Carly Pearce and Cody Alan provided commentary for CMT throughout the night, with Pearce also performing The Judds' Why Not Me, noting “I'm a Kentucky girl myself," and saying “I have this mental image that I feel like Naomi’s flipping her skirt in heaven tonight.”

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Reba McEntire, U2’s Bono, Morgan Freeman, Oprah Winfrey, Salma Hayek, Bette Midler and Reese Witherspoon also made appearances.

“Whenever we hear her voice, we will be forever reminded of her purity of her heart and the vulnerability she bravely shared with the world,” said Winfrey, adding that she talked to Naomi many times over the years. “Her body is gone, but her sweet spirit and legacy remains as a heart print on every life she touched. And I thank you, Miss Naomi Judd, for touching mine.”

“I remember Naomi as one of a kind -- a force of nature to be reckoned with that managed to have, at the time, a disarming sweetness that was almost hypnotic. She was always so kind to me, and yet she always managed to intimidate me,” said Hayek, “I feel very, very privileged that she came into my life.”

The ceremony began with Naomi's daughter, Ashley Judd delivering a eulogy that traced her mother's life from its humble beginnings in Kentucky to the heights of superstardom. Holding back tears, Ashley spoke of Naomi suffering from harsh abuse as a child and as an adult.

"We are here tonight remembering an icon and legend who left country music better than she found it," Ashley said. "Since the 30th of April, we have been remembering the complex and dynamic life of our mother and story. She was every woman. Perhaps, this is why everyone thought they knew her. She was a nurse. She was a single mom who sometimes relied on public assistance, she was traumatised by early childhood abuse, intimate partner violence and rape and she was fired by a boss when she refused to go away with him for a weekend.

"She was Mamaw to her grandchildren, Elisha and Grace and to my chosen family and she was totally extraordinary. The five-time Grammy Award winner, the multi-platinum artist, the Hall of Famer who was lauded by millions and tonight we remember her in song."

Wynonna Judd followed her sister’s words with a rendition The Judds’ 1989 track River of Time. She later returned to the stage to perform The Rose with Brandi Carlile and closed the show with a performance of Love Can Build A Bridge, accompanied by the choir from her church.

As the memorial came to a close, Wynonna announced she'll carry on the 11-date Judds tour she and her mother announced back in April, renamed The Final Tour, in honour of her mother.

“Tonight is a celebration and, at the same time, I can't put into words how devastated I am. I miss her so much,” Wynonna said. “After a lot of thought, I'm going to have to honour her and do this tour. I'm just going to have to. Tonight, as we close, the show must go on, as hard as it may be. And we will show up together and you will carry me.”

In another emotional moment, Naomi husband, Larry Strickland, took the microphone and shared how his wife loved talking to people she just met. To illustrate this point, he read an email he received from a man who had sat next to Naomi on a flight a few days before she died; for reasons unknown, Naomi had given this man Strickland’s card with his contact information.

The man said he didn’t know much about country music but was delighted to meet Naomi, and they talked throughout the 90-minute flight. After he found out she had died, the man said, he wanted to reach out to Strickland: “She spoke highly and warmly of you and the life you shared together. Rest assured she loved you, and had no qualms about telling me, a stranger on the plane, that was so.”

Earlier this week, Ashley revealed her mother’s cause of death to be suicide, a tragic loss that happened on the eve of Naomi and Wynonna’s induction into the Country Music Hall Of Fame

Naomi’s death was first announced in an emotional statement posted to social media on April 30: “Today we sisters experienced a tragedy. 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. We are in unknown territory.”

Vale Naomi Judd (January 11, 1946 – April 30, 2022)