Interview with Wynonna: Why she’s ready to rip the roof off T-Mobile Center tonight
Like the talented country superstars that preceded her—Dolly! Reba!—Wynonna is a one-named wonder. Alongside her mother Naomi, she was one half of The Judds, a mother-daughter duo that upended the early 1980s male-dominated country charts with multiple number #1 hits, five Grammy awards, and handfuls of hardware from the CMAs. (Heck, from 1985–1991 they duo-handedly swept the Vocal Duo of the Year award.)
Last spring, the Judds’ “The Final Tour” was announced with special guest Martina McBride and was scheduled to make 10 stops beginning in September. Less than three weeks later, the country icon lost her mother—and longtime singing partner—to suicide. It was the day before The Judds were to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. She and sister Ashley accepted the award on their mother’s behalf. It’s safe to assume there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. She then chose to forge ahead with the tour, a cathartic gesture for her fans—and for Wynonna herself.
Today, the red-haired rocker is just a few days into the second leg of her Final Tour, with a slew of guest performers/friends/confidants joining her on stage, including Tanya Tucker and Brandi Carlile to name a few.
The beloved songstress arrives tonight to the T-Mobile Center ready to bring the house down with her powerhouse vocals. In fact, earlier this week, in a New York Times interview, the legendary Dolly Parton paid Wynonna the ultimate compliment saying, “I don’t think there’s anybody in the business—any business, whether it’s country or rock or pop, anything that has a greater voice than Wynonna.”
We caught up with Wynonna last night to discuss her love of KC, tonight’s upcoming performance, her new record deal, and how she’s unapologetically moving forward.
The Pitch: Are you ready to rip the roof off the T-Mobile Center?
I’m not coming there just to say hi. I have plans to do it big—really big. Much is given, much is required. And I’ve been given this opportunity—and I didn’t think I was gonna do it at first. And then I sought counsel and everybody said, ‘Listen, the fans need this memory and this celebration.’ After death, there is life. And so, I’m coming to bring life to the atmosphere and inject it with a lot of joy and celebration.
I read in an article that you said you’re starting to find your voice again, figuratively and literally.
Literally, when you go through trauma—when you go through a death of a parent—it literally knocks the wind out of your sails, so to speak. And I feel like I went through such a grieving process—still am.
And I’m finding joy again. And it’s catching me at different times during the day. You know, I’ll be walking down a hallway and some guy will stop me and say, ‘Hey, I remember when you played here with your mom back in 1980-whatever. And I just look at him like, ‘Oh my God, I’m still here.’
And I feel like I’m finding a new purpose—the past, the present, and the future is all happening kind of at once. And, in a single day I go through so many different emotions. I’m up on stage and I’m feeling Mom—and gosh, so many memories. Good Lord. 40 years of doing this. I’ve been doing this 40 years. That’s more than half my life.
When was the last time your mom came through loud and clear? Maybe you heard a song that caught your ear? Or spotted something that was unmistakably Miss Naomi.
Well, I had an experience the other day… from my grandbaby. I was singing to her. And my grandchildren call me Noni. And I was singing, ‘Noni’s gonna buy you a mockingbird… and if that mockingbird won’t sing…’ And she started clapping—and I thought, that’s it. That’s the moment that we all wait for to hear—or see—that someone is looking down on us. And I just felt the Holy Spirit. I felt the spirit of my mom.
All these different feelings came into play and I just stood there like, ‘Oh. My. God!’ My little grandbaby—who’s not old enough to do much but eat and sleep and poop—she clapped her hands. And so here we are, and I feel that stuff all the time now.
Music is such a healer. You can be going through an absolute hell-on-earth moment, and then a song will play and it just makes you feel a little better. Or it helps you to cry and feel your feelings. Music does that, so I’m gonna stick with it as long as I can do so.
I have big plans. I have really big plans tomorrow night. And I’m so blessed to have these friends of mine come in and stand around me singing the harmony parts. I sang soundcheck today with Kelsea Ballerini. And she’s singing the parts to “Love Is Alive” that my mom sang. And she’s the next generation of greatness, so here we go.
Do you like the whole getting ready process before shows? The hairspray, the make-up, all of it?
Yup. I’ve been doing it so long, it’s part of my day. Even at home, when it hits around 5:30 – 6 o’clock, I start going into this mode where I usually go cook dinner if I’m home—because I gotta do some kind of production. [laughs]
It’s a thing. I can feel it. It’s like a calling. I can feel the stage calling to me and then I can hear when I go in the back door, I hear the roar of the crowd applauding for Martina McBride, and she’s singing “Independence Day.”
And I just get these—talk about goosebumps!—like, every hair on my body stands up and says hallelujah. And I go to the stage and I can feel everybody in the audience. It’s weird. I’ve been doing it so long, it’s just part of my DNA.
We’ve seen you countless times at the Iowa State Fair on your Black and Wy tours and also at Thundergong! How did that KC connection come about?
My husband—for those who don’t know—my husband was involved in a motorcycle wreck. I was 10 feet behind him when he lost his leg. I went into nursing at that point in our marriage, three months in. And I wasn’t prepared. Of course, no one ever is.
And because of Steps of Faith and Billy Brimblecom—I mean, he’s such a part of us. And he’s such a major fan of (my husband) Cactus and vice versa. The whole thing came about because of the prosthetics thing. And I’m honored because they [Thundergong!] ask me every year.
Of course, I’m gonna do it, because it’s my husband and it’s part of our DNA as well musically. It’s part of our give back. You get so much given to you all year long and it’s our one chance to give back to other people, so they can just get back to work or play ball or do something that we take for granted every single day.
If you think about it, $500 can literally put someone back to work. Would you be willing to help pay that? It’s pretty important. We’re so blessed in the fact that Cactus can now play drums better than he played before the wreck is pretty amazing. And it’s because he has the right prosthetic.
This town loves you. How excited are you to be back? Any favorite haunts?
Green Lady Lounge is my favorite place, my favorite place to go. I absolutely love it. And I was there last time we were in Kansas City.
I love Kansas City so much. I stock up on Arthur Bryant’s every time I come. I love Kansas City—like, I’ve been playing there since 1984. So, it’s 2023—do the math, people. I feel like I know everybody in Kansas City. Listen, I’ve ridden the city bus.
Oh, and I sang on the streetcar. You know what? I’ve been doing it so long, I’ll sing anywhere. Gimme a back of a truck. Gimme a rodeo. Gimme a county fair. I’ll sing anywhere. And the fact that I get to do this tour on the big stage with so many fans is just an extra bonus.
I’ll be back on the road this summer doing shows with Tyler Childers and all kinds of artists, outdoor festivals and all that. But doing these shows are pretty exciting. The rush of the crowd is—there’s nothing like it. It’s the greatest rush in the world.
That many people singing back the words—it’s so loud. Sometimes you see me take a step back physically—well, it’s because the audience is singing so loud. I just hold up the microphone and let them take it. And it’s been happening every night. The fans love the music. They love the Judds music. There are generations out there who are learning the music.
So, I’m out there with all the feelings—the joy, the sorrow, the pain, the joys of life, the death—it’s all encompassed in this two-hour show. So, I’m feeling it all.
Let me shift gears a bit and ask what are you listening to right now?
Tina Turner. And Emmylou Harris. I’ve been playing Linda Ronstadt lately because I’m getting ready to cut one of her songs. John Mayer.
And I’m always listening to everything I can that’s new. I listen to a lot of independent stuff. I’ll be honest, I went on TikTok the other day and I caught some artists on there and I went on their Spotify. New artists. I’m always looking to see who the next big person coming out is.
Probably Tina—when I hear those voices, I just go, okay, I gotta go out there and rock. I gotta do something. I gotta do something with my gift.
Tell us about your new record deal.
I’m with a label called ANTI- Records. And I love the title of the label because it’s not that I don’t want to make records anymore, I just want to have fun. I want to get away with as much as possible.
So, now I’m on this record label where you go to listen to Mavis Staples. I mean, Mavis Freaking Staples. These are iconic artists who are so rare and unusual. Just check it out. If you want to go listen to anything unusual, go to ANTI-. They sort of have this ability to sign artists that are eclectic and unusual and authentic.
And I just want to make records that are unusual now because I just feel like I’m getting older and wiser. And I feel like the words are coming stronger than ever—because as you get older you start to feel deeply about things and you definitely have opinions. So, I’m ready. I’m ready to make the next record—and it’s probably going to be the most personal album I’ve ever made.
Finally, what’s the final score of the Superbowl gonna be? Chiefs vs. Eagles?
Gosh, I don’t know the score, but there’s probably going to be a two-touchdown difference. I’m not good at scoring. I just know all I care about are the snacks, I’ll be honest. But Kansas City is going to win. Just sayin’.
Interview briefly edited for content and clarity.