The Judds Reflect on Their Unlikely Path to Stardom as Country Music Hall of Fame Exhibit Opens

Rick Diamond/Getty Images for Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum 
Wynonna Judd and Naomi Judd (R) attend the new exhibition debut, The Judds: Dream Chasers, at The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum on August 8, 2018 in Nashville, Tenn.

It was the early 1980s, and Naomi Judd had moved her two teenage daughters to Tennessee in hopes of chasing dreams of music stardom. As it turned out, opportunity came knocking while she was on the job.

“I was taking care of Brent Maher’s daughter, Diana, and I brought her pain shots on time,” recalled Naomi. “I was a really good nurse. I waited until they were discharging her from the hospital. I took our demo tape to Brent.”

That tape – recorded on the family’s home tape recorder – eventually made its way to the desk of RCA chief Joe Galante, who was impressed with what he heard, and the rest was history. The Judds – consisting of Naomi and daughter Wynonna -- were soon signed to the label, and by the end of 1983, they were on the charts with a cover of Elvis Presley’s “Had A Dream (For The Heart),” which peaked at No. 17 on Hot Country Songs. Their next single, “Mama He’s Crazy,” would top the chart – and for the next seven years, everything the duo touched turned to Gold….or in most cases, Platinum.

The story of The Judds comes to life in a new exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame. Titled The Judds: Dream Chasers, the exhibit follows the popular duo from their mother-and-child beginnings as Diana Judd and daughter Christina Ciminella to their chart-topping career peak as one of the most successful duos in country music history. Wednesday night (Aug. 8), the Country Music Hall of Fame held a preview of the exhibit for industry professionals and VIPs, and to say that it was an emotional night for both women would be an understatement.

Naomi Judd began her remarks with a question for the standing-room only crowd in the Hall’s Rotunda. “When you think back to what was the turning point in your life – what was that milestone that everything changed for you, and would never be the same again? Have you ever thought about that? What happened to you? What was going on when you had a complete transformation. There are people right now, and I see some of their beautiful smiles, who helped me to have that transition. I was taking care of a couple bratty girls who were teenagers. I was trying to raise them with little money. It was really rough, I have to say. But, then one magical day, Joe Galante helped change our lives forever. Brent Maher helped change our lives forever and ever. It’s a real kick that we have this in the museum.”

Daughter Wynonna injected a little bit of humor in her remarks, talking about the unlikely path to stardom for a mother and daughter who were going through their own set of personal growing pains at the time stardom hit.

“When you’re eighteen years old, your supposed to get an apartment, have hangovers, and be late on your rent. Yet, a dream come true – I shared a bus with you. Whoa! Thank you, God,” she said with tongue planted in cheek before turning sentimental.

“If it hadn’t been for every one of you, I’m sure you played some part in getting us where we are today. I feel so blessed, and I’m keenly aware of how many artists we’ve lost. I’m going next week to see Loretta Lynn, and I sing every night and talk about the legends, the true legends that we opened for. I’m finding it hard to understand why we’re here. I never really felt like I deserved my success. I just open my mouth and it comes out – naturally. Back then, we didn’t have technology,” she said with a mischievous grin.

Among the artifacts featured in The Judds: Dream Chasers are:

- A Velvet jacket embellished with bugle beading and sequins, worn by Wynonna Judd on The Judds’ farewell concert in December 1991. The concert was taped for a television special broadcast a week later

- Lyrics to the song released by The Judds as “Rockin’ with the Rhythm of the Rain,” handwritten by Don Schlitz, who co-wrote the song with Brent Maher. The song went to No. 1 and appeared on The Judds’ second album, Rockin’ with the Rhythm (1985)

- 1996 Gibson Custom Shop ES-336 electric guitar used by Wynonna Judd in her solo concerts

- Nurse’s uniform worn by Naomi Judd when she worked as a registered nurse

- Certificate presented to seventeen-year-old Naomi Judd for her volunteer work as a Candy Striper at King’s Daughters Hospital in Ashland, Kentucky

- Hohner harmonicas and cigar box owned by Naomi Judd, who began playing harmonica in the 1970s

- Note to Santa Claus, written by Naomi Judd and her siblings when they were children

- Music industry awards: Grammy for Best Country Song (1991) for "Love Can Build a Bridge,"presented to songwriters John Jarvis, Naomi Judd, and Paul Overstreet; CMA Horizon Award presented to The Judds in 1984; ACM Top Vocal Duet Award presented to The Judds in 1990

- Silk jacket embellished with beaded stars and worn by Wynonna Judd at the 1991 ACM Awards

- Kaat Tilley gown worn by Naomi Judd during The Judds’ nine-show residency in Las Vegas, October 2015

The Judds: Dream Chasers officially opens Friday (Aug. 10), and will be open at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum through July 14, 2019.