On Sunday, friends and family of Naomi Judd honored the late country music legend live on CMT with Naomi Judd: A River of Time Celebration. The star-studded event came about quickly after news spread of The Judds singer’s passing on April 30. During a recent interview, executive producers of the celebration opened up about how everything came together for the special event.
Recently, CMT executive producers Jason Owen and Margaret Comeaux spoke with Variety about the memorial. The CMT producers and their team honored Judd’s wishes, which she included in her will many years ago. Naomi requested a memorial service in her name at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. Yet there was only one day on the Ryman’s schedule open for an event that could include a large crowd and cameras. Owen and his partners jumped on it and went into overdrive to pull the event off on short notice.
“There were a few big things in her funeral arrangements that she had planned a couple of years in the past. She wanted it to be a celebration, versus a full-on funeral,” Owen said. “She wanted it to be held at the Ryman, she wanted the Gaither Band. And she wanted the last song to be ‘Love Can Build a Bridge.'”
The pair went on to detail the hectic schedule to bring the celebration together. In fact, there were zero rehearsals prior to Sunday’s event. Rehearsals began that afternoon at 1 p.m., and the venue opened its doors three hours later. Each performer had one run through, except Brad Paisley who didn’t rehearse. Yet the audience and CMT viewers would never realize the producers’ struggles since the celebration was a huge success. Naomi would’ve been pleased that they were able to pull it off as she requested.
Country Music Stars and Celebrities Honor Naomi Judd at CMT Live Event
Naomi Judd: A River of Time Celebration brought together many within the country music community who mourned the singer’s death. Some of Nashville’s biggest names showed up, with many performing songs on stage during the CMT celebration. Performances included musicians Brad Paisley, Carly Pearce, Jamey Johnson, Ashley McBryde, Brandi Carlile, and Emmylou Harris. Featured speakers included some huge celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Bono from U2, Morgan Freeman, Bette Midler, and Reese Witherspoon.
Additionally, Naomi’s two daughters, Wynonna and Ashley Judd, were in attendance as well. They each addressed the crowd with Wynonna also singing in an emotional song dedicated to her late mother. Naomi’s husband, Larry Strickland, also shared a heartfelt story with those in attendance and for those watching at home.
The televised celebration of Naomi Judd’s life isn’t the first memorial made available to watch on CMT. Country music icons Johnny Cash and George Jones had similar tributes after they passed away as well. Owen admitted that Naomi Judd: A River of Time Celebration was a challenge though. He even called it the most difficult portion of his entire professional career. Yet he’s also extremely proud of the memorial special and the work they did to bring it to fruition.
“I think, honestly, it’s been the toughest two weeks of my professional career,” Owen said in the interview. “And last night was really the first time that I feel like I really broke down, after everything was done and I had the time to grieve. I was also really proud of the special and everything that everyone worked so hard to do, including Wynonna’s team and obviously CMT.”