The Judds Revived the ‘Country Duo’ on the Way to a Country Music Hall of Fame Career

by Jim Casey
(Photo by John Atashian/Getty Images)

On August 16, 2021, the Country Music Association revealed that The Judds—mother-daughter duo Naomi and Wynonna—were elected into the Country Music Hall of Fame. The Judds (Modern Era) will join Ray Charles (Veterans Era), Eddie Bayers (Musician), and Pete Drake (Musician) in the Class of 2021. Of course, induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame is widely regarded as country music’s biggest honor.

And the Judds are more than deserving. From the mid-1980s to the early 1990s, the duo dominated the charts and awards shows. The Judds scored 20 Top 10 hits, including 14 chart-topping singles. The tandem brought home five Grammy Awards, nine CMA Awards, and seven ACM Awards.

When The Judds dropped their 1984 debut album, Wynonna & Naomi, they did more than embark on a Hall of Fame journey. Really, they revived one of country music’s art forms: the permanent duo. Duos weren’t really a part of the country music landscape at the time.

Sure, there are examples of duos from prior decades, including the Everly Brothers and Flatts & Scruggs (see the Hall of Fame list below), as well as The Bellamy Brothers. But The Judds really opened the floodgates for a genre full of permanent duos to emerge (not just Willie Nelson teaming with Waylon, Merle or Julio Iglesias), from Brooks & Dunn to present-day Brothers Osborne.

In fact, in country music today—unlike many other genres—the permanent duo is celebrated at the CMA and ACM Awards in its own category. That changed because of The Judds, who won the CMA Vocal Group of the Year (two or more members) category from 1985 to 1987. In 1988, the CMA rebranded the category Vocal Duo of the Year to focus on permanent duos (for the most part)—and The Judds claimed that title four years in a row from 1988 to 1991.

Winning Combo

With their mother-daughter harmonies, not to mention Naomi’s stage presence and Wynonna’s soulful delivery, The Judds proved to be a winning combination from 1983 through 1991. Of course, Wynonna also went on to have a very successful solo career.

“When we moved to Nashville in the late ’70s, still struggling to make ends meet and dressing Wy and Ashley in thrift store dresses, I could’ve never imagined the success we achieved as The Judds,” said Naomi Judd. “I am beyond thrilled and humbled for this incredible recognition. There’s no greater pinnacle in country music than the Country Music Hall of Fame.”

“This moment takes me back to 1983 when Mom and I first started,” said Wynonna Judd. “We would get in the car and visit multiple radio stations a day. It kind of feels like I’ve hit the lottery. It is so surreal. John Lennon always said that he just wanted to be remembered, and now we’re truly part of history, or I should say HERstory. What an honor.”

The Duo Club

When The Judds are inducted into the CMHOF later this year, they will join seven additional duos in the esteemed club (one songwriting duo and six performing duos). However, The Judds are the first all-female tandem to be elected. In fact, of the seven duos currently in the Hall, only one features a female member. Of course, The Judds will also become the first mother and daughter to join the Hall. (Sidebar: The Carter Family was inducted in 1970 as A.P, Sara, and Maybelle, without her daughters June, Anita, or Helen).

Since 1961, the Country Music Hall of Fame has elected 146 members (counting the 2021 Class).

Here are the seven duos The Judds will join in the Country Music Hall of Fame.

  • Flatt and Scruggs, 1985: Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs
  • Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, 1991: songwriters Felice Bryant and Boudleaux Bryant
  • The Louvin Brothers, 2001: Ira Louvin and Charlie Louvin
  • Homer and Jethro, 2001: Henry D. “Homer” Haynes and Kenneth C. “Jethro” Burns
  • The Everly Brothers, 2001: Don Everly and Phil Everly
  • The Delmore Brothers, 2001: Alton Delmore and Rabon Delmore
  • Brooks & Dunn, 2019: Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn