Wynonna Judd reflects on the last time she sang with mom Naomi: ‘She was very fragile’
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The last time Wynonna Judd shared a stage with her mother, Naomi Judd, was last spring, just weeks before her 76-year-old parent and country music partner’s death by suicide — and it was unlike any other time they performed together.
In an interview with TODAY’s Hoda Kotb for her “Making Space with Hoda Kotb” podcast, Wynonna Judd opened up about what made that night so different from all the other times the Judds’ singers belted out their hits side by side.
"She was very fragile," the 58-year-old said of her mother's demeanor that night in April 2022, when they put on their final performance at the CMT Awards.
The duo were there to sing their 1990 single "Love Can Build a Bridge," but as they harmonized, Wynonna saw more than love in her mom's eyes. She also saw a trepidation she'd never seen before a show.
"I think it’s because she hadn’t sung in a long time," she explained. "And I think when our parents get older, their world gets smaller. And she was late (that night), and she is never late. I think she was nervous. And I think it was so much of an expectation to do it for CMT Awards, and I just think it was, like, imagine being that nervous and having to go out."
Wynonna shared that her first instinct wasn't to comfort her mother in that moment — though that came in time. Instead, all she could focus on at first was the towering, wine-colored, spotlight-stealing wig her mother wore to the event.
"The first thought in my head was, no, I don’t want to hug her or comfort her. I want to pull her wig off," she recalled. "Because that was the dynamics of our relationship. It was tough and tender."
She went on to describe them both as "alpha and determined" in their relationship with each other, noting that the tenderness part took some extra time to find.
"It was sometimes hard for me to be tender with mom, because I’m the lead singer, and I’m on my own version of life, on my own journey," Judd continued. "And I think it occurred to me, though. All of a sudden, she looked at me and blinked, and I knew then that something wasn’t right in terms of her being off a little bit, like, nervous. I softened, which I think is God’s grace. I just kind of reached out and touched her hand, like, 'I’m here. I got you. It’s OK.'"
She added, "I’m glad I did that, because that was the last time we performed together. I’m glad I didn’t stay stuck in my perfectionism is my point, I guess."
Back in October, during an interview with People magazine, Wynonna revealed that “I love you” was “the last thing” she said to Naomi before she died. But during her chat with Hoda, the hit-maker revealed that she’s had a lot more to say to Naomi since then.
"I had a lot of conversations with her," she confessed. "I’m constantly talking to her about, 'Well, what the hell am I supposed to do about wardrobe?' Because she was always the wardrobe (person)."
And the conversations get heavy at times.
"I talk to her a lot about (how) I don’t understand, I don’t understand, I don’t understand. I kept saying, 'Why, why, why did you do this? Why did you do this? Why did you do this?' I talk a lot to her... I’m still struggling big time with, 'Why did you do this?'"
It's a question she asks not only for herself, but also for others who are struggling in their own lives.
"I want to help other people not do what my mother (did)," she added. "I talk to her a lot about, 'What am I supposed to do now? We were supposed to do a record together. We were supposed to do this tour together. We’re supposed to, we’re supposed to...' Life is a mystery, you know?"
However, Wynonna doesn't want her mother's life to remain a mystery to fans — or to be defined by how it ended.
"My mother was very kind," the "I Saw the Light" singer said. "(She) always made people feel, whether it was a limo driver or the maid in the hallway, she always spoke to everyone. She will be remembered for that, the kindness. And the ones that didn’t know her, I would say give her a break, because they’re going to judge her based on what they know about the suicide."
So Judd shared how she’d like her family’s matriarch remembered.
"I would like for her to be remembered for being a great songwriter," she noted. "She is still my queen."
This article was originally published on TODAY.com