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Wynonna Judd Gives Candid Interview About Navigating Grief, Gratitude and Going Strong at 60 (Exclusive)

Wynonna Judd is still going strong at age 60 — and she has no plans to retire any time soon.

During her nearly 50-year career, the country singer has won five Grammy awards, released 14 No. 1 singles and sold more than 30 million records. She’s performed at the iconic Grand Ole Opry and in 2022, she was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame alongside her late mom, Naomi Judd, as the mother-daughter music duo The Judds.

But despite all the accolades and the legions of fans, the legendary artist remains as down-to-earth as it gets.

“During a typical day, I’m wearing my big-butt pajama pants, a big T-shirt and Uggs with my hair in a ponytail and no makeup, walking around my kitchen thinking about what I’m going to make for dinner,” says the 60-year-old star. “I don’t have an extravagant lifestyle.”

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Judd is happiest at home on her 1,000-acre Tennessee farm with her husband of 12 years, drummer Cactus Moser, and her granddaughter, Kaliyah. (She’s been caring for the 2-year-old for her daughter, Grace Kelley, 27, who’s been in and out of legal trouble. Judd and ex-husband Arch Kelly III also share son Elijah, 29.) “We sit out on the porch and I eat ice cream with my granddaughter. It’s not a picture-perfect world,” adds Judd, “but the land is healing.”

Here, the country music legend — who kicks off the second leg of her Back to Wy Tour in September — talks about grieving the loss of her mother (Naomi died at the age of 76 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in April 2022 following a long battle with depression), embracing grandmotherhood and the one thing she wishes she could tell her younger self.

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You turned 60 in May. How does it feel to be entering this new decade?
For me, 60 means trying to stay mentally fit and getting out there and giving everything I’ve got and having fun. I’m so tired of being hard on myself. I’m learning how to be content.

You look amazing.
Survival of the fittest. I’m working on a bit of a makeover; I hired a trainer and got a new wardrobe. But I’m seeing the lines. I have this mirror that’s magnified and I look and go, “Who’s that person staring back at me? How did she get here?” But the other part of that is the wisdom that’s come from my experiences.

How are you taking care of yourself these days?
I’m working really hard on my mental health and physical wellbeing. There’s a lot of talking to my grief counselors and my team who will say, “No, that’s not a good idea.” I have a life coach and he [asks], “Are you saving your money? Are you drinking enough water?”

It’s been two years since your mom died. How are you doing?
I’m in a really good place. I’ve worked on forgiveness and my anger and frustration with suicide. [At a fan club party] last night, everyone had on Judds T-shirts from the ’80s and ’90s. I thought, “I have a choice. I can either be better or bitter.” My grief comes and goes. I see it as a gift in terms of the healing part.

How do you handle the harder moments?
Something will happen and you start to cry and think, “What’s wrong with me?” Then you realize there’s nothing wrong with you. It’s perfectly fine to cry. It’s important to embrace it and lean into it. I cry as much as I need to and when it’s time to be done, it will be.

Do you still talk to her?
I do. On stage, I look up a lot because I see angels. Now I do it with Mom. I’m like, “What the hell are you doing? Where are you and why are you not here? And why are we not singing together again?”

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When do you feel her presence with you the most?
When I’m on stage. And when I’m with Kaliyah. She carries a picture of Mama around and a picture of her and her mom. I talk to her about them and say, “They love you very much.”

Has your relationship with music changed since your mother’s death?
Music has always been a safety. I went through a lot in my teens. I’ve gone from not wanting to live and attempting [suicide] and to being on stage 25 years later and now almost 50 years…

Have you ever thought about branching out from country music?
I’m making a record with my husband. We’re [going] from blues to bluegrass. But country music is like going back home. I was always a hillbilly and will always be one.

Do you credit your family with helping you heal?
No. I don’t say that to be negative. But family is sometimes chaotic and dysfunctional. Somebody just got married, somebody just lost a dog, somebody’s mother has cancer — this is all happening right now, we have a lot going on in our family. I read the Word a lot. Jesus is real to me. It’s a relationship, not a religion.

What is your relationship like with sister Ashley?
Now that Mom’s gone, it feels like there’s more of a solidifying — and that grout between the stones is God. We’re both believers so we have such a strong connection now. There’s no drama there, and if there is, it doesn’t last as long as it used to. We’re older now and we realize we have only so much time left.”

Does Kaliyah like to sing like her grandmother?
We’ve started singing together. My favorite thing in life is to sit on the porch with her and eat ice cream. She’s in the rocking chair and she [says,] “Noni, where are you going? Noni, what are you doing?” Being with her in those moments [is] where I realized no amount of money can ever make you this happy. I thought it would, but it doesn’t. Lying in the bed with her before bedtime and her putting her nose against mine and me singing to her, and she’s starting to sing back… [it’s] heaven on earth.

What’s one piece of advice that you hope she carries with her?
The greatest thing I can tell her is that she’s loved unconditionally. I want her to know her best is good enough. I never felt like mine was. I’ve had producers fire me in the studio and say, “Go home, you’ve sung this 20 times. It’s good.” I tell her, “You’re an amazing creature and I love you, even when I’m mad [or] disappointed. I love you no matter what.” That’s what my grandmother did for me. And Cactus does the same thing.

You were 48 when you married Cactus. Had you given up on love?
At one point I thought I was going to die alone. I worked hard at being alone but it didn’t work as well as I’d hoped. I’m better in a marriage and in a partnership because I grew up that way with my mother.

You’ve been touring the country on your Back to Wy Tour, playing all the hits from your first two solo albums. What’s it like being out on the road again?
It’s an absolute gas. I go fast: I work hard and I love hard, and I come home completely exhausted and exhilarated because I’ve given everything I have.

What do you do when you get off stage? How do you unwind?
Well, I’m raising Kaliyah, so it’s different than it was. Sometimes I go out and I walk in the woods and just stand there and cry and laugh and cuss and pray. That refills me with what I need to go back out there and give again.

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Does it take a lot to prepare yourself for a tour?
I go through a real intense emotional roller coaster. One day I feel like I’m on top of the world and I’m Miss America, some days I feel emotional. You’re leaving your home and your people and your animals.

Have you ever thought about packing it in?
All the time. But I don’t know any other way. I was raised by some of the greatest artists of all time from Loretta Lynn to Tammy Wynette to Dolly Parton …I’ve taken everything they’ve said and applied it. I’ve come out with a sense of purpose.

What do you think your purpose is at this point in your life?
God gave me this gift. It’s agony and ecstasy being in the music business. I’m an empath and so when I walk in a room, I can tell who’s lonely and who’s feeling really good. They know I’m there for them. I want to heal people and help them.

Talk to Us about the special bond you have with your fans.
Since Mom died it’s gotten more intense because people feel so close to me. They’ve watched me go through everything from birth to death to tragedy and triumph. My fans saved me from myself. I was a teenager with a lot of angst. I was raised by a mother who [told me to] be perfect. My fans watched me grow up, fail, succeed. That’s unconditional love.

How do you stay grounded?
This business continuously kisses your ass and tells you you’re better than anything in the world. You just have to go, “Thank you, I appreciate that,” and let it go.

Tell us about life on your farm.
I live pretty simply. We just had dinner in the creek; we [had] our shoes off, eating and talking about the good old days. We don’t talk about being famous. We try to put our phones down and have a conversation.

Thoughts on social media?
The comments are the biggest drag. I played the National Anthem at the Kentucky Derby this year, and somebody wrote, “You look like a drag queen.” I wrote back, “Thank you,” but in my spirit, I was like, ‘Really? Is this really what we’re doing here?’ The good news is I have a sense of humor.

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You and Law & Order: SVU star Mariska Hargitay have been friends since kindergarten. How do you maintain that friendship?
We’ve had years where we didn’t connect because we’re both working all the time. She showed up for my 60th birthday and I cried the whole time and held onto her. I adore her.

What’s one thing you’d tell your younger self?
Oh my gosh. To thine own self be true. I’m such a people pleaser. For years I was trying to make everyone in the room like me — what an exhausting, bankrupt place to live. So I’d say, “Don’t let them touch you if you don’t want them to, don’t let them push you into doing something you don’t want to do. Be more true to yourself.”

Looking back, is there anything you wished you’d done differently?
Some of my clothes. We wore spandex and Candies!

Any plans to retire?
I can’t imagine not being on stage when I’m 80. I want to go out singing a high note — I want to ascend to heaven as I’m standing there singing the highest note I can.

With reporting by Christina Garibaldi

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