Naomi Judd's Retirement Due to Chronic Hepatitis : Country music: She will stop touring with daughter Wynonna next year. The duo had more than a dozen No. 1 hits.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Country singer Naomi Judd's surprise announcement this week that she is retiring followed months of concern about poor health, a spokesman in Nashville said Thursday.

Diagnosed with hepatitis in January, the 44-year-old country star took three months off from the the Judds, in which she is paired with daughter Wynonna, 26, but the layoff did little to improve her condition, said publicist Chuck Thompson. Extensive tests last spring at the Mayo clinic in Minnesota revealed that the elder Judd's condition was chronic and had escaped detection for nearly four years.

Judd said she will quit the music business after the duo's current "Love Can Build a Bridge" tour--which is scheduled to include an undetermined Los Angeles date before the spring.

The decision marks the end of the Judds, one of country music's most successful attractions since 1984. Wynonna plans to continue in country music as a solo artist.

The duo, which is on tour in the Midwest, could not be reached for comment Thursday, but Naomi explained her retirement in a press release on Wednesday:

"I have always told Wy and our fans the only thing that could stop me from this career that I so desperately love is my health. Unfortunately, that has happened."

Bob Guerra, operations manager for Los Angeles country music radio stations KZLA and KLAC, who has known the Judds since 1983, said the group is irreplaceable.

"Their rise to fame was so fairy-tale like," Guerra said. "Initially what made them so popular was the fact that they were this pretty mother-and-daughter team, but I think it was the unique directness of their songs and their pure harmonies which ultimately won fans over and helped push country music back to a simpler sound."

Natives of Ashland, Ky., the Judds lived in Los Angeles from 1968 to 1975 where Naomi, a former model, trained to be a registered nurse. After a divorce, Naomi migrated with Wynonna to Nashville, where they recorded their first mini-album in 1983.

In the past six years, the Judds have sold more than 6 million records and had more than a dozen No. 1 country hits, including "Why Not Me" and "Grandpa (Tell Me 'Bout the Good Old Days)." The duo was named the Country Music Assn.'s vocal group/duo of the year for the sixth straight time two weeks ago.

Jo Walker-Meader, executive director of the Country Music Assn., said by phone Thursday that "this is certainly a sad day in Nashville."

"Besides the fact that they were great singers and performers, there was something very different about the way they dressed and carried themselves. Not only did their music appeal to people's hearts, they brought glamour to country music."

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