The country music legend was recognized for her philanthropic work at the inaugural award show on Thursday
At the 2023 PCCAs on Thursday, the country music legend, 59, received the first-ever country champion award, recognizing her commitment to social advocacy and philanthropy throughout her career. As she was accepting the award, the singer-songwriter whose career spans four decades, opened up about her mother Naomi Judd's death by suicide in April 2022 and how she's committed to staying strong for others.
After John and TJ of Brothers Osborne introduced the singer, calling her "the true spirit of country music," she performed a powerful medley of some of her greatest solo hits, including "I Saw the Light" and "Rock Bottom."
Following the performance, the Grammy winner thanked the duo for presenting her with the award and joked that the crowd, who were enthusiastically cheering her on, could take a seat.
— People's Choice (@peopleschoice) September 29, 2023
She began by reflecting on the early days of her career: "So I graduated high school in 1982 and 1983, I got a record deal with RCA Records and I got on a Silver Eagle Bus with my mama and did her hair every night for 10 years for free. It started there."
"Of course, 10 years later she would have to retire and I would go on to make country music 'herstory,'" the superstar continued. "Thanks to the fans, I didn’t give up then — I would have another 10 years, a second career."
She then spoke candidly about losing her mother in April 2022.
"On April the 30th of last year, my mother committed suicide. I went to her house and she died there, but we followed the ambulance anyway to the hospital where she was pronounced dead and I walked into the room and I held her in my arms, kissed her on the forehead, shut her eyes and said, 'I love you mom.' I walked out of that room, went home, got up the next morning and showed up at the Country Music Hall of Fame to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. You know why? Because that’s how much we love music. Regardless of what has happened to me and who, I show up and I show out."
"I looked up the word 'champion' today and it says 'to do battle for others’ honor,'" the singer-songwriter continued. "That is exactly what I am going to do tomorrow when I get on a commercial flight and fly to Denver and do one more show because I can’t get enough of you."
After thanking her husband, Cactus Moser, daughter Grace and son Elijah, and saying she "will do anything to protect" her granddaughter, she concluded her speech with an inspirational sentiment.
She said in a video of the speech posted to X (formerly Twitter), "Let me tell you something: It’s getting harder and harder out there. Never give up on your dreams. And for half of y’all in this place tonight, I know you don’t know who I am or you were not born when I had my years of being fabulous, and I’ll let that go. But back in 1990, Tim McGraw opened for me. Four weeks ago, I opened for Tim. The highs are high and the lows are low, baby, but don’t ever let them tell you who you are."
— People's Choice (@peopleschoice) September 29, 2023
When Brothers Osborne presented Judd with the award, John Osborne called her "an artist, activist, philanthropist, champion, her spirit, her soul, and her strength are an inspiration; the definition of a hero."
The “She Is His Only Need” artist has long advocated for causes such as assistance to veterans and their families and prison reform. The latter is an issue close to her heart and led her to meet with White House officials, as her daughter Grace Pauline Kelley is incarcerated for violating a probation stemming from a drug-related conviction.
When it was announced that Judd was being honored at the PCCAs and will soon host the upcoming NBC holiday special Christmas at the Opry, Cassandra Tryon, senior vice president, live events, NBCUniversal Entertainment shared a statement. “Wynonna is one of the most recognized and lauded performers in country music,” Tryon said. “Not only is she incredibly talented, her selflessness and passion for putting the needs of others in the spotlight is unmatched. We can’t think of a better person to honor as our inaugural ‘Country Champion’ and to celebrate the holidays with across these two major country music events.”
The hitmaker is also about to embark on her next string of live dates, the Back to Wy theater tour. The special string of shows, which begins in late October, sees the star primarily playing songs off her first two solo albums, her 1992 self-titled debut and 1993’s Tell Me Why.
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She recently spoke about the Back to Wy tour with PEOPLE. "Coming out of The Judds tribute tour, for me, it was time to get back to the intimacy again,” she said. “It's years celebrating not only being in country music for 40 years, but me as a soloist — I have so much to celebrate."
She explained that she’s looking forward to playing old favorites like “She Is His Only Need.” The singer added, “That song was a personal favorite to my mother. That will be one of those moments where I'll be probably shedding a tear because that song was for my mom. And now that she's not here, it brings even more emotion."
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