Celebrating Women’s History Month: The Judds

Up until the rise of Brooks & Dunn in the ’90s, the Judds were the most commercially successful duo in country music history. Mother Naomi and daughter Wynonna enjoyed an astounding run of 14 number one singles from 1984 to 1989, ranking them as one of the most popular country acts of the ’80s. Their music combined elements of traditional country harmony singing, bluegrass, and Appalachian folk with pop, rock, and polished contemporary production. Moreover, Wynonna’s powerful, bluesy, often sexy lead vocals established her as one of the finest female country singers of her era. But even more important than their widely accessible sound -- or their considerable visual appeal -- was their sympathetic understanding of working-class and small-town women, earned through a long, hard struggle of their own. Though their off-stage relationship was often more contentious than it appeared, it took a life-threatening illness to bring the Judds to a halt -- Naomi retired from performing when she was diagnosed with hepatitis C but beat the disease to watch Wynonna enjoy an acclaimed solo career.

Naomi and Wynonna made tapes of themselves on a cheap cassette recorder and sometimes sang on Ralph Emery’s local morning show. They caught their first big break through Naomi’s nursing job: one of her patients happened to be the daughter of record producer Brent Maher, and that contact eventually led to an audition for RCA executives in early 1983. The Judds were signed on the spot and issued their debut single, “Had a Dream (For the Heart),” late in the year. It reached the country Top 20, and it was accompanied by a quickly assembled mini-album, The Judds. Their second single, “Mama He’s Crazy,” was a breakout hit that went all the way to number one and later won a Grammy for Best Country Vocal by a Duo or Group. Their first true full-length, Why Not Me, was released in 1984 and took its place as a classic of modern country, establishing the Judds as spokeswomen for a new generation of female country music fans. The Grammy-winning title track, “Girls Night Out,” and “Love Is Alive” all went on to top the country charts, as did the album, which also sold over a million copies.

The Judds were now full-fledged stars, and they spent the rest of the ’80s cranking out hit after hit. 1985′s exuberant Rockin’ With the Rhythm spawned four number one singles in “Have Mercy,” “Grandpa (Tell Me ‘Bout the Good Old Days” (another Grammy winner), “Rockin’ With the Rhythm in the Rain,” and “Cry Myself to Sleep.” 1987′s Heartland was widely viewed as more uneven than its predecessors but kept their hit streak going strong with the chart-toppers “I Know Where I’m Going,” “Maybe Your Baby’s Got the Blues,” and “Turn It Loose.” The ten-track Greatest Hits was released in 1988 and featured two new songs: “Give a Little Love,” which went to number two and won another Grammy, and “Change of Heart,” which hit number one. 1989′s River of Time became the first Judds album not to top the country charts since their debut mini-album but continued their streak of consecutive million-sellers all the same. “Young Love (Strong Love)” and “Let Me Tell You About Love” both hit number one and would prove to be the last Judds songs to do so.

Here is “Love Can Build A Bridge” from The Judds.

Other talented ladies who paved the way to make country music what it is today 👇


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