December 4, 1991: The Judds Performed Their Final Concert

Photo: William F. Campbell/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

On December 4, 1991, The Judds performed their final concert at the Murphy Center in Murfreesboro, TN. In less than a decade, the mother-daughter country act charted 23 hit singles and won five Grammy Awards. With their perfectly harmonized voices, The Judds mellifluously melded together traditional country, bluegrass, Appalachian folk, pop, and rock sounds. As a result of their hardscrabble early years, The Judds wrote songs that appealed to many other women (and men) with similar small town, working class backgrounds.

The Judds’ origin story began with a teen pregnancy, years of perseverance and then serendipity. Naomi Judd was born Diana Ellen Judd in Ashland, KY on January 11, 1946. As an honor roll student and piano player at the local Baptist church, Judd shocked the town when she got pregnant at 17 by her boyfriend, Charles Jordan. She married Michael Cimenella and had her daughter Christina, who now goes by Wynonna Judd. After moving to Los Angeles, CA in 1968, Naomi had her second daughter, actress Ashley Judd. However, after her divorce from Michael in 1972, the single mother and her two daughters often lived off of welfare in order to make ends meet. In 1976, they moved back to Kentucky, lived in a mountain home without a phone or TV and started making music together.

In 1979, The Judds were serious about breaking into the country music scene, so they moved to Nashville, TN. While working as a nurse to pay the bills, Diana officially changed her name to Naomi and spent the rest of her free time tirelessly promoting their music to Nashville producers with a cassette tape in hand. Their first big break happened when Naomi discovered that one of her patients was the daughter of a major record producer. She convinced him to come over to their home and listen to them perform. He liked what he heard and the duo landed a record deal with RCA Records in 1983. Their debut single, “Mama He’s Crazy” (1984), skyrocketed straight to No. 1. After that, the duo had a run of eight consecutive chart-topping songs, including “Why Not Me” (1984), “Girls Night Out” (1985), “I Know Where You’re Going” (1987), and “Turn It Loose” (1988). Thanks to their multiple years of dominating the charts and country radio stations, The Judds became synonymous with the 1980s country sound. After releasing four more albums, including the platinum-selling “Rockin’ With Rhythm and Heartland,” Naomi was diagnosed with Hepatitis C, causing her to retire. After The Judds disbanded, Wynonna launched her successful solo career with her mother’s support. Although Naomi and Wynonna continue to have their fair share of rocky times together, their music always seems to bring them back together.

The Judds might have officially retired in 1991, but they made sure to not completely abandon their fans. They reunited in 2011 for their 18-city Last Encore tour and their reality series, “The Judds.” On the show, fans got an up close and personal glimpse into their mother-daughter relationship. Their 2015 Las Vegas residency delighted old fans and new, as has their recently released greatest hits album and October 2017 performance at Kenny Rogers’ final Nashville concert. Whether they decide to reunite one last time or not, The Judds legacy lives on with all the dynamic ladies of country that are climbing up the country charts today.

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