Naomi Judd's Friend Ann Wilson Recalls Some of Her Favorite Moments With Late Country Music Legend (Exclusive)
By Mona Khalifeh
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Ann Wilson is celebrating the late Naomi Judd amid her unexpected death. ET spoke with the Heart frontwoman about her friendship with the country music legend and how she'll be remembering her. Naomi died Saturday at the age of 76, after a battle with mental illness.
"I think the first time I ever met her, I’m assuming we were in the Nashville airport, and we're just like waiting at the gate," Ann said of her and her band's first meeting with Naomi and her daughter, Wynonna Judd, who made up the country duo, The Judds. "I guess, they were on their way out to a tour or something like that -- it was just like two women sitting in seats at the gate at the airport, and at first we were kind of starstruck, 'Wow, look, it's them,' and then they noticed us, and we got to talking and it was really cool. It was just really down to earth and normal."
Their connection grew from there, with Ann later spending time with Naomi at her home in Nashville.
"A few years back, Naomi and Wy put on a lunch, like a picnic lunch on their land outside of Nashville for us, for my sister and I, and our manager and the women of our tour group, and so, we all went out there and they served this beautiful catered Greek lunch out there by the lake, but Naomi wasn't there yet," Ann began. "She came late, and we saw her in the distance driving up the hill, and her little Jeep. She got up to us and she leaped from her vehicle, and she was all decked out, in quite the cowgirl outfit, with fringe and everything, and this little red belt and her flaming hair and cowboy hat -- and I just thought, 'That woman is put together, she looks good.' She's just a tiny -- she was a tiny thing, so, she looked like a doll, and I just remember seeing that out in nature and thinking how beautiful that was. She just was so beautiful."
It wasn't just Naomi's beauty that the rock star was in awe of -- it was her strength too.
"I think she was a really strong person -- just somebody who came from hard times and then pulled herself up and made it happen, and made it happen for her two extremely beautiful, talented daughters," she continued. "She didn't leave Wy home, she took her out on the road, because she spotted something, and she used her leverage to help Wy develop her own talent. What better gift can a mother give to a daughter than help her just blossom like that?"
Ann added, "And sure, there were hard times like, can you imagine being on a tour bus with your mom for all those years, when you want to rebel and all that? I think that the mother and daughter relationship is always complex, and those two women really made it happen, and they made it work."
That strength and beauty was something that helped her stand out as an artist, Ann said, and really solidified her place in the music industry and country music as a whole.
"I think she stood out as an artist, because she was able to share her beauty on stage," Ann explained. "She could wear anything, she could sing, but most of all, I think she embodied the whole spirit of bringing yourself, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and making it happen, not sinking into despair of poverty or abuse or anything like that, just making it happen. She was a success story."
"Being depressed does not exceed the actual good stuff you can do," Ann noted. "One does not dispel the other. I mean, you can still go out there and live, and actually by working and living and creating, depression is held at bay. It's just that kind of mentality really works against depression."
She continued, "I’d want her fans to not get caught up in the negative things that have been written about her and why, but to remember that she was a simple woman who came from hardship and pulled out of that and made it all happen in this other way. She was a success story, and she did it with their own personal, internal strength."
As for how Ann will be celebrating her late friend, it will be my bidding her soul farewell, and sending it on its next journey.
"I just got to say that whenever a soul transitions out of a body, it's almost the hard thing for the soul to let go. So, for us to all be all weepy and wailing about it doesn’t help her at all," she shared. "So, in my heart, I'd like to celebrate her, just her life and who she was, and say bon voyage, travel well, because now, she's onto her next journey. So, I think that will help her."
Announced last month, The Final Tour was going to kick off Sept. 30 and was already sold out. While new dates and cities were about to be added to the lineup, ET has learned that the family is meeting this week to talk about the fate of the upcoming tour, and if it can proceed in a different incarnation. The family wants to be respectful and representative of their legacy, but more importantly, do what Naomi would have wanted for her family and fans.
For more on Naomi's life and legacy, see the video below.