The Judds were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame Sunday evening in Nashville, in an emotional medallion ceremony that went on as scheduled the day after Naomi Judd’s death. The Hall had announced Saturday that the induction would go on in the wake of the tragedy due to the wishes of the family.
“I’m sorry that she couldn’t hang on until today,” said a tearful Ashley Judd. The actress and sister Wynonna Judd were described as holding onto one another and reciting Psalm 23 together.
“I didn’t prepare anything tonight because I knew mom would probably talk the most,” Wynonna told the audience. “I’m gonna make this fast, because my heart’s broken, and I feel so blessed. It’s a very strange dynamic, to be this broken and this blessed. … Though my heart’s broken, I will continue to sing, because that’s what we do,” she said.
Wynonna Judd gave more details on her mother’s death at the ceremony, the Tennessean reported. She said that Naomi died at 2:20 p.m. CT Saturday and described how she kissed her mother “on the forehead and walked away” after family members recited the aforementioned psalm together over her body.
Performers paid tribute to the Judds in song, including current top 10 country singer Carly Pearce doing the duo’s 1986 smash “Grandpa (Tell Me ‘Bout the Good Old Days)” and the Americana duo of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings covering 1989’s “Young Love (Strong Love),” another No. 1 hit for the Judds. Tommy Simms sang “Love Can Build a Bridge.”
Brandi Carlile had been scheduled to sing “Love Can Build a Bridge” at the medallion ceremony. That wasn’t revealed until she posted an Instagram video Sunday with an at-home rendering of the tune, recorded alongside her daughter. Carlile was knocked out of this lineup — as she was a scheduled Friday Stagecoach appearance — by COVID.
“Having a bittersweet Sunday afternoon at home with my daughters today and praying for” Wynonna and Ashley, Carlile wrote. “We know they woke up to a world without their mom today We want them to know that they’re so loved and that they’ve given a language to not just mothers and daughters everywhere but that every family can learn something about love from the Judds.
“They were my first, second and third concert in my life and they’ve given me more than they could possibly understand,” Carlile continued. “Tonight they will be Inducted into the Country Music Hall Of Fame and I was supposed to sing them this song tonight. Let’s send them every bit of love and gratitude that they deserve.”
Three other performers were inducted into the Hall, as well — the late Ray Charles, the late pedal steel player Pete Drake and still-active drummer Eddie Bayers.
Garth Books was there to honor Charles in song, singing “Seven Spanish Angels.” It’s a song that Charles recorded as a duet with Willie Nelson in 1984 that became a No. 1 country single. (The R&B great’s association with country music goes back far longer than that, to the landmark 1962 crossover album “Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music.”) Another legendary singer, Bettye LaVette, sang Charles’ “I Cant Stop Loving You.”
Session player Drake was honored by Wendy Moten singing a George Jones classic he indelibly performed on, “He Stopped Loving her Today,” earning a standing ovation for her performance of what some consider country music’s all-time greatest song.
Trisha Yearwood performed her own signature hit “Walkaway Joe” in honor of Bayer, one of that tune’s studio players. Other performers included the Nashville-based contemporary vocal duo the War & Treaty.
The Judds were formally inducted by Ricky Skaggs, while Ronnie Milsap did the honors for Charles.
The ceremony is typically an intimate affair at the Hall of Fame, and is not livestreamed or (unlike the igher-profile Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony) filmed for television broadcast. The red carpet part of the program was canceled after Judd’s death.
Naomi Judd’s death had been announced Saturday afternoon and was said to have taken place earlier that day. Although no cause of death has been given, a statement from her daughters, Wynonna and Ashley Judd, attributed it to “the disease of mental illness.” The sisters collectively wrote, “Today we sisters experienced a tragedy,” they said in a statement posted from the Judds’ official Twitter account. “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.”
A statement from Judd’s publicist Saturday said, “Her husband, Larry Strickland, of 32 years will not be making any further statements. Naomi Judd’s family request privacy during this heartbreaking time. No additional information will be released at this time.”