The Transformation Of Wynonna Judd From Childhood To 58 Years Old

This article contains mentions of addiction, attempted sexual assault, and suicide.

Born Christina Ciminella, Wynonna Judd has come a long way from her roots, as her impressive award-winning career in country music shows. At an early age, Judd started making waves in the music world, and for years, she dealt with the unique set of pressures that come with being in such a fickle industry. As she told Bill Boggs back in the '90s, "You try to make it, you're freaked out. You make it, you're freaked out about losing it. And as you start to lose it, you're freaked out about getting it back. I went through that in my 20s, but now that I'm 30, I'm really enjoying my life because I don't have to prove anything." Spoken like a true one-of-a-kind music icon.

So, how did she go from a kid with Grand Ole Opry dreams to the country superstar she is today? Read on for the transformation of Wynonna Judd.

Growing up, her family struggled financially

According to ABC News, Naomi Judd was a teenage mother who married Michael Ciminella at 18 and gave Wynonna his last name, although the real father was a former boyfriend who had abandoned them both. Wynonna would only belatedly learn the truth about her father at age 30, after believing she and sister Ashley Judd had the same dad for decades.

After Ciminella and Naomi split up, Wynonna's mother did the best she could to support her family while going to nursing school, but it wasn't easy. As Naomi said in "Behind Closed Doors: Talking with the Legends of Country Music," "We're talking serious poverty. ... And to tell you the truth, there were times when I didn't know how we were gonna eat, or how I was even gonna pay the small rent that I paid." Naomi, Ashley, and Wynonna moved around a few times, bouncing around between California and Kentucky, making do with what they had. "We lived in Appalachia — nothing to do, no TV, no telephone," Wynonna later recalled in an interview with NPR, joking that she had to listen to the radio as a last resort.

She started singing with her mother

Although The Judds sometimes struggled to get by, there was always something they could do to raise their spirits. Naomi and Wynonna Judd loved to sing together, especially after Wynonna was given a guitar as a kid and began learning chords. As she writes in "Coming Home to Myself," "I started singing and playing around the house. I'd sit on the porch and practice for hours. And so my life as an artist began." 

When Wynonna was a teenager, the family headed to Tennessee. That's where she and Naomi would make their dreams of country music stardom a reality. They were signed by RCA Records as The Judds in 1983, after giving producers a demo that they made at home using inexpensive recording equipment.

"It felt very much like going to the principal's office," Wynonna later told PBS, describing the intimidating meetings. "I was used to singing; I wasn't used to being in a boardroom full of men." The young musician had a secret weapon, however, that helped her cope with nerves. "I could sing in front of 10,000 people, as long as I had my guitar," she recalled, describing how it protected her from stage fright. "I was like 'Xena' with a guitar."

The Judds became country stars

Despite their difficult beginnings, Wynonna and Naomi Judd made it big. As Billboard observed, their string of number one hits actually made them the most successful female duo of all time. "Mama He's Crazy" became their first chart-topper when it was released in August 1984, paving the way for The Judds to release ten albums that conquered the world of country music. They won five Grammys and became one of the biggest country acts of the '80s.

"Yeah, it still blows our minds every day," Wynonna told the Los Angeles Times in 1987, reflecting on how quickly she had transformed from a high schooler to a celebrity. "Being young, emotional, and sensitive, it's been hard for me." She also admitted that she was insecure at first and felt like their success was a fluke, but had since realized why people liked their music so much. "Country music has always weighed heavily on the cheatin' / drinkin' material, but our lyrics are more positive," Naomi's daughter explained. "We sing about the importance of family a lot, probably because Mama and I have been through so much together."

Wynonna Judd went solo

In 1991, Naomi Judd contracted chronic hepatitis C and The Judds sadly had to stop performing. The illness took a toll on her physical and mental health, as she later told the Chicago Tribune. "When you are told by medical authorities you have three years on this planet, that you're going to be taking a 6-foot dirt nap and that this is an absolutely incurable terminal illness, the sense of entrapment is so suffocating, so claustrophobic," the Judd family matriarch explained. "It felt like there was no way out, like being buried alive." Luckily, an experimental treatment later freed her from the virus and Naomi continued to use her platform to help others with hepatitis C.

Wynonna Judd launched her solo career after a spectacular farewell tour from The Judds, which aired on public access to a record-breaking number of viewers. "We had one of the greatest "good-byes" in the history of Country Music. We went out with a bang," Wynonna recalled, per PBS. "And the next day, I woke up and, "Oh, my gosh. What do I do now?" It was devastating." The country star wasn't sure whether she could make music without her mom at first, but with Naomi's support she went on to achieve six number ones and a series of certified platinum albums.

She was criticized for having a child out of wedlock

Wynonna Judd always had a loyal fanbase of country music listeners, but those fans turned on her when she became pregnant out of wedlock with her first child. The singer broke the news in a highly-publicized press conference in 1994. "I just thought that it was the right thing to do — to face this thing instead of dodging the press and acting like I was ashamed," Judd later explained to the Orlando Sentinel. Though she was excited about becoming a mother, her values were called into question. She soon found herself explaining her situation to concerned mothers over the phone and reassuring them that she didn't encourage pregnancy outside of marriage.

"It doesn't really fit into the story the way everybody wanted it to. People wanted to see me get married first to a dream boy, then live happily ever after, then the child can come," Judd told the Baltimore Sun, reflecting on why fans felt so connected to her personal life. "Mom and I overcame poverty. We made it. We were the American dream." But evidently, some fans' version of the "American dream" looked far more traditional. She continued, "But now they think, 'Bless her heart, look at what's happened.'"

She became a philanthropist

Wynonna Judd isn't just known for her singing: she's become a public figure for her acting, appearances on TV shows like "Dancing with the Stars," and her philanthropy. The country star has worked to raise HIV and AIDS awareness in particular, becoming a YouthAIDS Music Ambassador and holding performances for the Southwest Center for HIV and AIDS. "We do not understand. And what we don't know, we make up," she told ABC15, explaining why she found the center's work so important. "And when you're standing there and you see a beautiful blonde girl get up and say, 'Hi, my name is... And I'm HIV positive,' the stigma is out the door." Judd also helped raise over $100 million for Hurricane Katrina charities with a charity single called "Heart of America."

And her activism in recent years has taken on a new direction for personal reasons: Judd's daughter was arrested on a drugs-related charge and sentenced to eight years in prison after violating her probation in 2018, per Politico. After that blow, the country singer started working with inmate advocacy groups like Hope for Prisoners. While visiting the White House to discuss the justice system, Judd told reporters that she was "really using this time to speak out for the unloved [and] people who feel forgotten."

Her second husband went to jail

Wynonna Judd's second marriage went down in flames in 2007 when her husband D.R. Roach was arrested and convicted for attempted sexual battery towards a child under the age of 13. As Judd explained, she was in an airport when the news broke but took action as soon as she arrived home. "He was out of the house within the hour," the singer told Oprah, reflecting on how protective she felt towards her own children. "I called him everything I could think of. I had a moment where I let it all fly, and then it was done." She filed for divorce five days after he was initially arrested.

"I trusted him with my life, and I didn't want to stop trusting," Judd continued. "It's a little tough because once burned, forever fears the fire." The singer made it clear that there were aspects of the situation that she wouldn't talk about, in order to protect the child's privacy, but she did confirm that they weren't a stranger and that Roach had been at a Texas rehab center at the time. "I knew that both Roach and I had issues with addiction when I married him," Judd said in Ladies' Home Journal (via People). "I really thought that I could change people through loving them enough. It doesn't work that way." She added that her priority was not saving her marriage, but looking after her two kids.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

She faced public struggles with her weight and money

In 2010, Wynonna Judd opened up to Oprah about her lifelong insecurities around weight, confessing that she had never addressed the topic with her sister and mother. "I've suffered in silence, I guess," the singer said in a TV interview, reflecting on how difficult it has been to open up. She also told Oprah that she had shoved down her negative feelings about her body and ignored them for years. "I've tried so hard not to complain," Judd added. "I go out on stage and I'm victorious. It's just, this is an issue. This is a problem."

Wynonna Judd also shared that she had faced financial ruin thanks to her out-of-control spending, which was caused by her sudden meteoric change in fortune. "I literally went from the outhouse to the White House," she reflected on "Good Morning America." "I traveled, I took friends, I rented jets. I loved the great rock star lifestyle." As Judd told The New York Times, she eventually ended up joining a program called Onsite, where she received treatment for her money woes. "If I can do it, anyone can," the country star assured readers, describing how she had changed her life. "I'm in absolute financial recovery. I live by cash only, by cash budget. I'll go into Target with a money envelope."

She was estranged from her mother Naomi Judd

Although Naomi and Wynonna Judd were the most famous mother-and-daughter duo in country music, the pair ended up taking time away from each other over the years due to their family conflict. "When Wynonna and I were really battling — a very turbulent relationship when she was a teenager — I kept hoping and imagining that some day she would be my best friend," Naomi told Ability magazine in 1995, observing that touring together put pressure on them. "When you share a dressing room, a stage, a hotel room and you sleep six feet away from each other on the Silver Eagle Bus, you will either work it out, or you'll kill each other," she joked.

In a 2016 interview with "Good Morning America," Naomi spoke frankly about how being such a young mother meant that she was growing up alongside Wynonna and making mistakes as she went. "And I'm always telling her, 'If I'd known better I'd have done better,'" the country music star reflected. "Wy bore the brunt of all of the mistakes I made and we talk about 'em. We've been through a lot of therapy together." She also admitted that they were taking "a break" from each other following the stressful filming of a recent docuseries.

She married drummer Cactus Moser

When it came to love, Wynonna Judd found that the third time was the charm. She tied the knot with longtime friend and fellow Grammy-nominated musician Cactus Moser in 2012, just a month before he had a bad motorcycle crash. As TMZ reported, he was rushed to a South Dakota hospital where doctors decided that his leg had to be amputated above the knee. Moser still advocates for other amputees through the charity Steps of Faith.

Though the two only married in 2012, Judd and Moser's story began a long way back. "We met while touring together in the '80s," Judd told Us Weekly. "He was touring with Mom and myself, and I was smitten then, [but] when you're touring with your mother it's kind of hard to get a date. So we went our separate ways." The pair still perform together as part of Judd's band The Big Noise. "I have loved you since I was 22yrs old and I love you even more today," Judd told her husband on Instagram, adding in another post that she was grateful for him and his positive attitude.

She lost her mother in 2022

Wynonna Judd lost her mother and her musical partner in April 2022. Country legend Naomi Judd died only a day before The Judds were due to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Ashley Judd confirmed on "Good Morning America" that the family matriarch committed suicide after a long struggle with mental illness. "I often feel like I'm not ever going to be able to fully accept and surrender to the truth that she left the way she did," Wynonna later wrote on Instagram. "This cannot be how The Judds story ends.

At her mother's memorial, which aired on CMT, Wynonna performed "The Rose" and "River of Time." As Rolling Stone recapped, an emotional Wynonna told the audience, "Tonight is a celebration. At the same time, I can't put into words how devastated I am. I miss her so much, but I will continue to sing." She went on to add, "We'll continue this spectacle. That's what she would want, right?"

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

The Judds were going to tour one last time

Before Naomi Judd's tragic death, The Judds had been planning one last tour. As Billboard reported, it would have been their first time getting back in a tour bus together in over ten years, and as Wynonna Judd said in a statement after the ten shows were announced, she and her mother couldn't wait to reunite with their fans out on the road. "Mom and I have had quite the journey over the last 38 years, and the fans have been with us through it all. This tour is a celebration for them!" Naomi added, "The cherry on top is singing with my beloved, wild and extremely talented daughter ... the best singer of any genre, Wynonna!"

Sadly, the pair never got to see "The Final Tour" together. But Wynonna has announced that she would continue with the planned performances as a tribute to Naomi, as Entertainment Weekly reported. "That's what she would have wanted," the country star told her audience at CMT's tribute to her late mother. "And what the fans would want." Per Rolling Stone, Wynonna will be joined on stage by fellow powerhouse singers like Martina McBride, Faith Hill, Brandi Carlile, Little Big Town, Ashley McBryde, and Trisha Yearwood. "I am humbled, once again, by the loyalty of the fans who have been with us for 38-plus years, who continue to show up for me when I need them the most," she said.