“It’s so weird, yet so natural, to be in front of (the fans), our chosen family for 38 years,” Wynonna Judd said near the end of the 75-minute, CMT-aired memorial event for her mother, Naomi Judd, on Sunday at Ryman Auditorium.
“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine,” she said, quoting a gospel hymn,
Then, in a moment that highlighted the maintenance of the Judds’ legacy in the aftermath of her mother’s death, Wynonna said that she would be going on the 11-date national tour that she and her mother had previously announced.
“The show must go on, as hard as it may be,” she said.
After that, amid a Ryman Auditorium stage awash in blue floodlights and filled with 2,500 giant pink roses, Wynonna Judd called upon the spirit of the Pentecostal church – and a Pentecostal choir that filled the spaces between rows of pews in country music’s “Mother Church” – to inspire a solemn, soulful performance of The Judds’ 1990-released hit single “Love Can Build A Bridge.”
Naomi Judd never met a stranger, her husband, Larry Strickland, said while flanked by Ashley and Wynonna Judd, onstage. Their stories of two things, “their passions and their dogs,” inspired her greatly, he continued. As well, her daughter, Ashley, added, in opening remarks, that her mother was an “everywoman, but totally extraordinary” who lived a life that was a “spectacular technicolor dream,” and that she “left country music better than she found it.”
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The dichotomies apparent in Naomi Judd’s life were as present as the songs she wrote and sang. Oscar and Emmy-nominated actress Salma Hayek remarked, via pre-taped comments, that she was awed by Judd’s presence because she “felt like she was meeting Scarlett O’Hara.” She called the country music superstar a “force of nature” with a “hypnotic, disarming sweetness.”
Also, via video comments, Oprah Winfrey said Judd taught her a lesson about the power of country music: “Country music is all about real people and real stories.” The icon added, “Naomi Judd (achieved) a rooted connection to all of us, and left a ‘heart print’ on our hearts.”
As far as performances were concerned, gospel trio The Gaithers’ offering of “How Beautiful Heaven Must Be” reached a crescendo with a final acapella flourish that yielded a loud ovation. Ashley McBryde was overwhelmed by the moment’s emotion but completed her version of the 1984 Judds single “Love Is Alive.”
Event host Robin Roberts fed to a video presentation that stated that Naomi Judd’s greatest gift was “enhancing and bolstering other people’s best talents and gifts.” As the Sunday evening event showcased, those talents often were Wynonna Judd’s lead vocals.
Wynonna had moments during her performances of “River of Time” and a show-stopping performance of Bette Midler’s “The Rose” (alongside Brandi Carlile) where the strain of two emotionally trying weeks showed. During solid performances, she paused, and turned to the crowd as if asking those in attendance to help power her through the lyrics.
“We can pretend to care, but we cannot pretend to show up,” Ashley Judd offered in the show’s opening remarks, thanking both the live capacity crowd and those who had sent along well wishes, cards and letters to the family in the past two weeks. She followed with a statement that reflected so much of the triumph and tragedy of her mother’s life.
“Our circumstances do not have the power to create our identity.”