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The Voice Mega Mentor Wynonna Judd's Amazing Career Proves She's a Country Icon

The musical star joined The Voice for Season 24 and will host NBC's Christmas at the Opry.

By Jessica White

Wynonna Judd is a legend who has been rocking the country music charts since the 1980s, first as half of the iconic duo The Judds and then in her solo career. 

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Wynonna was half of the creative talent behind The Judd's extensive lineup of No. 1 hits, and her solo music career has been just as decorated, bringing listeners hits like "Is It Over Yet," "No One Else on Earth," and "Only Love." A true Renaissance woman in every way, the singer has appearing in several television series and programs.

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Wynonna's not slowing down either: The industry titan is making her way to The Voice Season 24 as the Artists' Mega Mentor and will be the host of NBC's Christmas at the Opry.

With nearly four decades of musical prowess behind her, Wyonna is bound to be a thrilling addition to The Voice. Ahead of the country icon's appearance, look back on Wynonna's mythic career in the music industry and beyond. 

Wynonna's Career with The Judds

Wynonna Judd and Naomi Judd pose together in matching white outfits

Wynonna soared to fame in 1984 as part of the country duo The Judds, which was made up of Wynonna and her mother, Naomi Judd. (Naomi Judd passed away in April 2022.) Growing up in Ashland, Kentucky, Naomi noticed her daughter's voice was exceptional at a young age, taking her to Nashville to see where their combined talents could go, getting signed by RCA Nashville within 2 hours. 

RELATED: Listen to Blake Shelton & Gwen Stefani's Beautiful Duet of The Judds' "Love Is Alive"

"I was used to singing; I wasn’t used to being in a boardroom full of men. Joe remembers me taking my guitar out of its case just like it was a gun in a holster," Wynonna revealed, via PBS. "I could sing in front of 10,000 people, as long as I had my guitar. I was like “Xena” with a guitar. It was my protection; it was my weapon. It was my best friend. It was my purpose for anything and anybody."

The Judds' EP Wynonna & Naomi

Through their debut EP, Wynonna & Naomi, The Judds were instantly celebrated for their ethereal harmonies and classic country charm. The same year, the pair started making a full album.

The Judds' Debut Album Why Not Me

The Judds then earned widespread success with the release of their debut studio album, Why Not Me. The record included the smash hits "Had a Dream (For the Heart)," "Mama He's Crazy," and "Love Is Alive."

The Judds' Second Album, Rockin' with the Rhythm

Wynonna and Naomi's country act was a smash, leading their sophomore album, Rockin' with the Rhythm. The country album boasts some of The Judd's most cherished hits, such as "Rockin' with the Rhythm of the Rain," "Grandpa (Tell Me 'Bout the Good Old Days)," and "Have Mercy." The album had four No. 1. singles on Billboard's Hot Country charts and was certified platinum.

The Judd's Third Album, Heartland

The Judds were incredibly prolific throughout the late 1980s, releasing their third album, Heartland, in 1987. The album featured several rock-n-roll influences and energizing singles "Cow Cow Boogie" and "Maybe Your Baby's Got the Blues." The record also included a cover of Elvis Presley's "Don't Be Cruel."

The Judds' Holiday Album Christmas Time with The Judds

The Judds' fourth studio release was a 1987 holiday album, Christmas Time with the Judds. Country music and the Christmas spirit are a match made in heaven, leading the recordt to become cherished delights once the holiday rolls around. The album invites listeners into the charming Judd household as they relish every reason for the season, delivering delicious country-fried renditions of beloved Christmas carols.

The Judd's Fifth Album, River of Time

In 1989, The Judds continued to rock the radio waves with their fifth album, River of Time. The infectious singles "Young Love (Strong Love)" and "Let Me Tell You About Love" were both chart-toppers. Like the many country classics released before it, River of Time was a sonic delight, marking a turn toward a country-jazz fusion.

The Judd's Final Studio Album, Love Can Build A Bridge

At the turn of the decade in 1990, The Judds released their sixth and final studio album to date, Love Can Build a Bridge

The Judds split up

Wynonna Judd and Naomi Judd hold up their awards on the red carpet of the 1988 Academy of Country Music Awards

The Judds discontinued their beloved country partnership in 1991, with Wynonna exploring a solo career as her mother addressed health concerns. The Judds said goodbye to their frenzied fanbase with a farewell tour, and their final show was televised for the world to watch. 

"We had one of the greatest goodbyes in the history of Country Music. We went out with a bang," Wynonna revealed via PBS. "And the next day, I woke up and, “Oh, my gosh. What do I do now?” It was devastating. I didn’t know how I was going to make it. But my mom and my manager were both in my ear constantly saying, 'You’ve got this.'"

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In addition to their studio albums, The Judds released many compilation albums, starting with 1988's Greatest Hits and ending with 2022's Love Can Build a Bridge: Best of the Judds. They also released three live albums: Hampton, Virginia 1985; In Concert (1995), based on previous performances; and The Judds Reunion (1999), taped at their reunion show.

Ultimately, The Judds took home five Grammy Awards8 Academy of Country Music awards, and 9 Country Music Association Awards. They recorded 14 No. 1 hits on the Billboard Country Music chart. In 2022, Wynonna and Naomi (posthumously) were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Wynonna's Solo Career

Wynonna Judd outstretches her arms while performing onstage

For years, Wynonna had been compared to country legends such as Patsy Cline. With her solo career, she was able to evolve as an artist by embracing new genres, such as pop and blues, further cementing herself as an exceptional talent.

In 1994, Wynonna took home an Academy of Country Music Award for Top Female Vocalist as a solo artist, and has since racked up a slew of Grammy nominations. Three of Wynonna's solo albums have also gone platinum by selling over a million copies.

She received her star on Nashville's Music City Walk of Fame in 2007.

Wynonna's First Solo Album

Wynonna's self-titled solo debut album was met with widespread acclaim upon its release in 1992.

It produced several No. 1 hits on Billboard's Hot Country Songs charts, with the romantic bop "I Saw the Light" and the blues-rock track "No One Else on Earth" becoming some of Wynonna's most timeless singles. The album's lyricism addressed Wynonna's newfound independence within the industry, making for a vulnerable yet energizing listen.

Wynonna's Second Solo Album, Tell Me Why

Wynonna kept the solo ball rolling in 1993 with the release of her sophomore album, Tell Me Why. Gifting fans the delightful tracks "Tell Me Why," "Girls with Guitars," and "Is It Over Yet," the album was an instant favorite and dominated the country music charts. Unlike her debut album, Tell Me Why found Wynonna on more confident footing, with many songs ditching the separation anxiety as she continued to stretch her wings. Wynonna earned a Grammy nomination for the album's smash hit "Only Love."

Wynonna's Third Album, Revelations

Wynonna released her third solo studio album, Revelations, in 1996. The lead single from the record, "To Be Loved by You," was a beloved track, earning her a Grammy nomination for Best Female Country Vocal Performance. The track "Heaven Help My Heart" was also a fan favorite, making its way to many radio replays. Revelations also included Wynonna's mesmerizing cover of the classic rock ballad "Free Bird" by Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Wynonna's The Other Side

Wynonna's fourth studio album was The Other Side, released in 1997. Featuring the sensational singles "Come Some Rainy Day," "When Love Starts Talkin,'" and "Always Will," the record received positive acclaim and led to the fabulous duet of "We Can't Unmake Love" with country icon John Berry, later featured on his greatest hits compilation album.

Wynonna's New Day Dawning and The Judds' Big Bang Boogie

At the turn of the millennium, Wynonna graced fans with the 2000 album New Day Dawning. The songs that were the most hailed were the powerful tracks "Can't Nobody Love You (Like I Do)" and "Going Nowhere." Wynonna also flexed her vocal talent by covering the Fabulous Thunderbirds' song "Tuff Enuff" and "Help Me" by Joni Mitchell. 

The album included a bonus, 4-track The Judds EP titled Big Bang Boogie, which created a stir for it being a reunion between Wynonna and her mother, Naomi. The single "Stuck in Love" put The Judds back on the country music charts after a decade-long hiatus. 

Wynonna's What the World Needs Now Is Love

In 2003, Wynonna signed with Curb / Asylum Records for her sixth solo album, What the World Needs Now Is Love. The titular track was an instant hit as Wynonna's stunning vocals encouraged listeners to stay open-minded. "Heaven Help Me" was also a chart-climber, but her duet with her mother on Lari White's "Flies on the Butter" was a cherished single as a nod to her time in The Judds. The album included several exciting covers, including as her Lilo & Stitch soundtrack recording of Elvis Presley's "Burning Love" and "I Want to Know What Love Is" by Foreigner. 

Wynonna's Holiday Album, A Classic Christmas

In 2006, Wynonna made the holiday season a little extra special with her holiday release, A Classic Christmas. Like Christmas Time with the Judds, Wynonna's Christmas album included several classic holiday anthems. The record also included the original track, "It's the Messiah," a country gospel fusion that instantly summons visions of sugar plums and figgy pudding.

Wynonna's Seventh Album, Sing: Chapter 1

Wynonna's seventh studio album was developed as a celebration of the country icon's 25th anniversary in the music industry. The 2009 karaoke album, Sing: Chapter 1, featured the titular original single and an 11-track lineup of cover songs that included Wynonna's most cherished hits from childhood and beyond. Boasting every genre under the sun, the record was a testament to Wynonna's chameleonic vocal talent and the various lives she's lived within her sprawling career. 

Wynonna & the Big Noise

Seven years after celebrating her landmark achievements in the music business with her holiday album and her anniversary record, Wynonna released her eighth studio album, 2016's Wynonna & the Big Noise. Unlike the two albums prior, Big Noise featured all original material, including the smash single "Cool Ya."

Wynonna's Recollections EP

In 2020, Wynonna dropped her pandemic-bred EP, Recollections, under a new label ANTI-Records. The five-track extended play includes more cover songs, including Wynonna's twist on the Grateful Dead's “Ramble on Rose,” Nina Simone's “Feeling Good,” and John Prine's “Angel From Montgomery."

“I’m in this beautiful moment where I’m on the outside looking in on my life and going, ‘What do I want the next chapter to be?’” Wynonna told Rolling Stone upon the EP's release. “I want it to be music that comes from the deepest part of me. I’ve been famous since I was 18 and it got me distracted from being an artist. I think I’m discovering my artistry again like it’s brand new.”

Wynonna Judd's Screen Credits: The Judds to The Voice

Wynonna Judd performs onstage for the premiere of the Lilo & Stitch movie premiere

Wynonna has been featured on several soundtracks and made many guest appearances on admired television programs, often as a dynamite songstress. 

In 1997, Wynonna voiced rock star Molly Cule in an episode of The Magic School Bus. In 2000, she guest starred as herself on the animated comedy King of the Hill. In 1999, she also guest starred as herself in Blues Clues in the episode "Blue's Big Holiday." Wynonna appeared in three episodes of Touched by an Angel between 1998 and 2003 as Audrey Carmichael. 

In 2002, her cover of Elvis' "Burning Love" was featured on the soundtrack of Lilo & Stitch.

In 2005, Wynonna guest starred as Cynthia Melville in two episodes of Hope & Faith. That same year, Wynonna appeared in the VegggieTales episode "Lord of the Beans," singing the tune "It's About Love." In 2006, Wynonna appeared as the Season 4 host of USA's Nashville Star. In 2007, Wynonna starred in NBC's television event, Wynonna: A Tribute on Ice, a 23rd-anniversary celebration of her extraordinary feats in the industry, boasting skating champions Brian Boitano and Kimmie Meissner.

In 2020, Wynonna made her film debut in the befitting television movie A Nashville Christmas Carol as Marilyn Jinway. Wynonna flexed her film talents yet again in 2022 in the legal drama Black and White.

The Judds docuseries

The Voice Wynonna Judd4

In 2011, Wynonna and her mother starred in the docuseries The Judds, shining a spotlight on the daily happenings and relationship between the country icons. The six-episode series chronicled their rehearsal process as they prepared for what was then their final concert tour. Providing a fascinating deep dive into the inner workings of the endlessly brilliant Judd family, the series was devoured by fans of Wynonna and her mother.

How old is Wynonna Judd? 

Wynonna was born on May 30, 1964 in Ashland, Kentucky and has been rocking the radio waves since she was 19 years old. 

Her given name is Christina Claire Ciminella but, when she started touring with The Judds, she adopted the moniker Wynonna. The stage name was inspired by Ray Benson's "(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66," with lyrics highlighting the town of Winona, Arizona, according to Taste of Country.

Wynonna Judd on the voice season 24 episode 13

Does Wynonna have children?

Wynonna is the proud mother of two children: Elijah Judd, born in 1994; and Grace Pauline Kelley, born in 1997. She shares both children with her first husband, Arch Kelley III, from whom she divorced in 1998.  

In 1997, Wynonna told the Tampa Bay Times that becoming a mother provided a brand-new perspective on life. “I don't really give a rat's butt about what the world thinks. I used to do anything for acceptance," Wynonna revealed. "Now as a mother, I stand there and say, ‘Here's who I am; take me as I am.' Lots of singers, their identity is focused on the stage. Now I have a separate identity from that stage. I come home, and I'm a mama." 

Does Wynonna Judd have grandchildren? 

Wynonna became a grandmother in April 2022 when her daughter Grace gave birth to a daughter, Kaliyah. Wynonna took to Instagram to announce the birth of her grandchild, sharing touching thoughts on family and finding joy within the chaos.

In an October 2022 interview with TODAY, Wynonna explained her granddaughter became her "rock" in the wake of Naomi's Judd's death on April 30, 2022. 

“She's 6 months old, and she doesn't speak yet, but she looks right through me. She gives me hope," Wynonna revealed. “[Kids] give you hope; they give you something to think about other than yourself." 

Wynonna Judd is the Mega Mentor on The Voice Season 24

Wynonna and Judd Reba McEntire on the voice season 24 episode 13

As if Season 24 of The Voice wasn't thrilling enough, the competition upped the ante with Wynonna joining as the season's Mega Mentor, guiding the Artists as they prepare for the grueling Battles and Knockout Rounds. 

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Coaches Gwen StefaniJohn LegendNiall Horan, and fellow country legend Reba McEntire will be keen to leverage Wynonna's invaluable experience in the industry to set their respective teams up for success. As one of the most gilded singers within the country genre, Wynonna is bound to be a game-changer for Team GwenTeam LegendTeam Niall, and Team Reba.

Wynonna Judd will be the inaugural host of NBC's Christmas at the Opry

Wynonna Judd wears a black blazer and smiles on the red carpet during the CMT Music Awards

The 2023 holiday season got an extra dose of Christmas cheer with the announcement of a thrilling new country music event, Christmas at the Opry. The two-hour musical special will include "Christmas favorites, holiday classics, and today's biggest hits" in front of a live audience, with country music goddess Wynonna leading the show as the Grand Ole Opry House's host. Fellow vocal powerhouse Kelly Clarkson and This Is Us star Chrissy Metz are among the many  performers set to appear.

The special airs just a few months after Wynonna received the first Country Champion award at the inaugural People's Choice Country Awards.

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“Wynonna is one of the most recognized and lauded performers in country music,” Cassandra Tryon, senior vice president of live events at NBCUniversal Entertainment, gushed. “Not only is she incredibly talented, her selflessness and passion for putting the needs of others in the spotlight is unmatched. We can’t think of a better person to honor as our inaugural ‘Country Champion’ and to celebrate the holidays with across these two major country music events.”

Originally published Oct 31, 2023.