Sunday, 14 June, 2009 0:04 AM
Wynonna Reflects on 25 Years
of Success (CMA)
by Kristin Barlowe
Deborah Evans Price
2009 CMA Close Up News Service
It's been a colorful
journey. Fiery redhead Wynonna is the first to admit there've been
a few bumps along the way, but her inimitable voice and willpower
have allowed her to survive and thrive. She's learned a lot along
the way, and smart newcomers will heed her advice.
"The hardest thing
in this business is to really, really stay true to yourself,"
she advised, speaking to students at Nashville's Belmont University,
on the occasion of a release party and concert for her latest album,
Sing Chapter 1, organized by the school's Record Company Operations
"You are so caught
between so many people's opinions and objectives for your career
and your life. Never let them tell you who you are, ever. I speak
from my spirit really deeply because that's been my greatest challenge
these last 25 years."
Wynonna has certainly
come a long way from being the fresh-faced teen who rocketed to
fame with her mother Naomi in the '80s as The Judds. She still remembers
accepting the CMA Horizon Award and confessing innocently to the
audience that she didn't expect to win - she only wanted to wear
"a pretty dress" to the event.
This was only the first
of many accolades earned by the mother/ daughter team, who reigned
as one of Country Music's top acts until illness forced Naomi into
retiring from the duo and prompted Wynonna to embark on a solo career.
It was a pivotal - and
scary - moment. "One of the things I remember the most was
standing in a store, talking to a guy who loved Judd music,"
she said. "He actually said to me, 'Gosh, do you think you
can make it without your mom?' I'm looking at him and thinking,
'OK, I'm not going to cry.' I just wanted to get out of there. I
remember leaving the store, getting into my car and just weeping
because I thought, 'What am I going to do?'"
One of the most intimidating
episodes of her life followed shortly after that in Midland, Texas,
when she gave her first solo concert. As she looked to her mother
for help, she received some odd advice.
"I remember walking
to the stage," Wynonna said. "Literally, my mother is
on my right side, and the look on my mother's face is something
I'm sure that as I pass from this Earth, I will remember. She turned
to me and said, 'Spread your wings and fly,' and then in the very
next breath she said, 'My advice to you .' And I think there's some
great profound wisdom coming, and she says, 'Honey, never watch
sausage being made.' I'm like, 'You've got to be kidding me! I'm
about to embrace the universe and that's the best you've got?'
"I went out there,"
she concluded. "And I never moved from the three-foot radius
of my microphone the entire show."
Though she might have
felt shaky at first, Wynonna emerged quickly as a solo artist, with
her self-titled debut album, eventually certified quintuple-Platinum,
and four No. 1 singles, including "I Saw the Light" and
"No One Else on Earth," on Billboard's Hot Country Songs
chart. With her soulful voice and gift for connecting with audiences,
she remains one of Country Music's most recognizable artists and
an ambassador for the format through appearances on countless magazine
covers and TV shows that range from "The Oprah Winfrey Show"
to "Good Morning America."
Corporate America, recognizing
this potential for reaching out to consumers, has often tapped Wynonna
as a spokesperson, most recently by the weight-loss product alli,
whose sweepstakes through May 15 will pick 50 grand prize winners
for transportation, accommodations and a private Wynonna concert
at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum July 11.
Above all else, though,
Wynonna remains a vital and sometimes risk-taking artist, as documented
on Sing Chapter 1. On this ambitious seventh studio album, available
on Curb Records, she performs one new tune - the title track, penned
by Rodney Crowell - and 11 standards whose only common denominator
is that each is a fixture in the American repertoire and together
they represent a vast variety, from Country classics by Merle Haggard
("Are the Good Times Really Over?"), Hank Williams ("I'm
So Lonesome I Could Cry") and Tammy Wynette ("Till I Get
It Right") through R&B ("I Hear You Knocking"),
lush ballads ("When I Fall in Love" and "Anyone Who
Had a Heart") and flat-out, roadhouse rock ("The House
ADD, I'm just going to wake up and go for what I really feel that
particular season," she said, explaining her decision to cover
these disparate songs. "My records are like children: You just
never know until they come out of the womb what their spiritual
Wynonna did switch gears
somewhat while recording these tracks. "When I started out
with this record, I wanted to rock," she confessed. "It
was going to be like the movie 'How Stella Got Her Groove Back;'
I was going to get my groove back. I was going to get out there
and be really loud and proud. [But] the more we listened and the
more we studied different genres and styles, I was really drawn
to the torch ballads more so than I was to being really loud."
To help achieve her goals
for this album, she recruited two co-producers, Brent Maher and
guitar virtuoso Don Potter, both of whom helped shape The Judds'
sound and have worked with Wynonna during much of her career.
"As I get older
and wiser about my journey and what has worked and what hasn't worked,
I know one thing for sure: At some point in your life, it is time
to return," she said. "And Brent and Don I not only trust
with all that I am musically, but personally as well."
Wynonna has known them
both since she was 16. "Brent and Don really trudge with me,"
she said. "They aren't in front of me or behind me, telling
me what to do. They are walking this journey with me. There are
a few people in this lifetime who will walk with you on your path
the way that Brent and Don have with me. They've known me my whole
musical career. I trust them and that's everything to me. So much
of this business is life taking; they are life givers. They say,
'Just do your thing and be who you are because your best is good
enough.' Who doesn't want to hear that?"
Potter, for one, knew
early on that Wynonna was destined for stardom. "The first
time I looked across the kitchen table while we were playing and
the girls were singing, I looked at Wynonna and thought, 'This girl
is already famous. It's just a matter of letting the rest of the
world know that,'" he said. "I thought, 'Wait until the
world hears her. This poor girl's life is going to go to pieces!'
The talent was always present; then you have to ask, 'Are they strong
enough to survive what their talent will drag them into?'"
Wynonna has proven that
she is strong, having overcome personal and professional obstacles
long enough to celebrate her 25th year in the music business this
"As an artist, Wy
is still growing," said Maher. "She has the God-given
gift of being a phenomenal singer. Not only does she have that phenomenal
voice, she has equally a fabulous gift for communication. It's not
just a beautiful voice that throws a lyric at you; she sinks it
in your heart."
For this survivor, the
little moments along the way, as well as the accolades and successes,
are what stay with her. "I have so many memories," she
said with a sigh. "I remember leaving the hotel and getting
into a cab to go sing at the Super Bowl, and I had tennis shoes
on - and the Fed Ex truck pulled up behind the cab with my dress
shoes. I have so many memories of, 'Just how in the world did I
pull it off?' It was by the grace of God that I got there. That's
the story of my career."
On the Web: www.wynonna.com
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