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POP MUSIC : Will the Circle Be unbroken : It looks that way. Wynonna paused for motherhool and marriage but she's back in country's fold with a cleareye resolved. Say amen, somebody

February 11, 1996|Robert Hilburn | Robert Hilburn is The Times' pop critic

NASHVILLE — When Wynonna released her first solo album in 1992 after a decade in the duo the Judds with her mother, Naomi, she was country music's most famous daughter. As her third album hits the stores on Tuesday, she has a new designation. She's now country music's most celebrated mother and new wife.

The country world was startled early in 1994 when the unmarried Wynonna (she no longer uses her last name professionally) announced that she was pregnant and had no immediate plans to wed the father, Nashville businessman Arch Kelley III.

But the pregnancy proved a double blessing for one of the most acclaimed country singers of her generation. Besides giving her a son, Elijah Judd Kelley, who was born on Dec. 23, 1994, it forced her to step away from the hectic pace of the solo career that had left her overwhelmed and, she says, frequently depressed. The career break was part of a reevaluation process that also included a change of managers.

The Ashland, Ky., native--who lives about 15 miles outside of Nashville in a picture-book farmhouse on a 22-acre spread near her mother--surprised her fans all over last month when she announced that she was pregnant again (the baby is due in July)--and that now she planned to marry Kelley.

In her first interview since her Jan. 21 wedding, Wynonna, 31, spoke about her baby, her husband and the struggle for her own identity after the extraordinary success of the Judds--a success generated by the mix of Wynonna's marvelous voice and Naomi's showmanship and drive. In contrast to an interview on the eve of her solo debut, when she often seemed tentative and insecure, she now appeared confident and opinionated as she sat in a private room at Trilogy, her mother's upscale restaurant just off Music Row, Nashville's famed music industry hub.

Besides the new album, "Revelations" (see review, Page XX), Wynonna will star in her own CBS-TV special on Feb. 23. She'll start her U.S. tour on March 15 with a three-night stand at the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles and continue through the end of May.

Question: What was your reaction in 1994 when you learned you were pregnant?

Answer: There were two reactions--joy and panic. I've always loved and wanted babies, yet I wasn't married and I knew all the things that would come with that. I knew some people would be hard on me.

Q: What about the response of fans? Were they supportive or outraged?

A: They were mixed. I got the harshest of letters and the greatest of support. You learn during times like that who your friends are and you learn how badly some people love to see everything as a scandal. I worried a lot about the effect all that would have on Elijah and Arch.

Q: Wouldn't it have been easier all around to have gotten married then?

A: I follow my heart, which has never failed me, whether in music or in my personal life. . . . And my heart told me to wait. When Arch and I had Elijah, I saw the way he loved our baby. It thrilled my soul to watch them together. He's the greatest father in the world.

But I wanted to make sure we knew each other as man and woman--that we had a life together outside of Elijah. I wanted to know how I was going to feel in 10 years with this person. That might sound selfish, but I knew someday that Elijah is going to get up and walk out of our life. I got a lot of flak for waiting, but I didn't want to walk down that aisle until I knew there was no doubt in my mind. And that's what happened when we did get married. If we had gotten married earlier, there might have been some doubt.

Q: Let's go back to 1992 and the first solo tour. What was it like going on the road without Naomi?

A: It was one of the single most traumatic experiences of my life. It was true agony and ecstasy. I was feeling victorious on stage, yet I also felt alone off-stage . . . almost like an orphan. For the first two years on the road, I didn't have a clue. I thought I did, but looking back on it, I know I didn't. I did well to just dress myself, show up on time and get the words right.

Q: Didn't you feel warmth from the audience?

A: It took time for us to get to know each other. I only knew them through my mother's filter. She was always the one out front [in the act], the one who did the talking between songs and made everybody feel at home. But suddenly I had to be the hostess . . . Miss Congeniality, and welcome these people into my life. I found that startling because I wasn't used to it. I had always been able to hide behind my guitar and not have to say anything because my voice spoke volumes about how I felt that night. Even in the media, I was often portrayed as the sort of aloof Judd.

Q: Aloof? I thought your reserve was due more to shyness.

A: Well it was, but I think I got misunderstood by a lot of people. Often, people place someone who is insecure and the quiet one in that slot of being arrogant. People see someone famous and shy and they assume she's snooty. But the truth is I was dying inside to be loved and wanted.

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