Country love and cowboy couture at Kennedy Center

  • The Washington Examiner
  • |
  • April 04, 2006

by Karen Feld

We never knew there were so many country music fans in Washington. Sens. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and Pat Roberts, R-Kan., the Joe Gildenhorns, the Fred Maleks, the Bill McSweenys, the Phil Merrills, the Chris Wallaces, and Donna Axum Whitworth (Miss America 1964) were among those spotted at the Country Salutes Country extravaganza at the Kennedy Center Friday evening. Most striking was Mary Ellen McKee, a National Committee for the Performing Arts member from Phoenix, in skinny, silver leather pants and coat trimmed with turquoise and silver designed by Michelle Julene of Jackson Hole, Wyo.


It was an onstage reunion for Wynonna Judd and her mom, Naomi, who’s recovered from hepatitis C. The mother-daughter team, with their signature red hair, last performed together three years ago, and sang “Grandpa, Tell Me ’Bout The Good Old Days.” At the party in the Atrium after the show, Wynonna’s husband told me, “I keep the two of them from fighting.”

When asked about her relationship with her mother, Wynonna explained: “We have family meetings to decide who’s going to carve the turkey.”

“It’s [singing with Naomi] like therapy,” Wynonna said. “She wanders off. She’s a live wire.” The duo rehearsed for only 15 minutes. Wynonna, who traveled with her mother on the road for 10 years doing her hair, said: “This is a new beginning. Music is a healer.”


Naomi looked terrific at the party — barefoot and wearing gold brocade with sparkles in her hair. Local cosmetic surgeon Dr. Csaba Magassy was proud: “One of my residents in Nashville did her [face].”

I asked Naomi how it felt to perform with her daughter. “It was transcendent,” she told me. “I didn’t know what year or how old she was. It didn’t matter if it was at the Kennedy Center or around the supper table. The harmony is very ethereal. She’s the melody. She’s her own entity. I sing harmony to boost her talent.” Naomi added: “It becomes an exaggerated mom moment. I’m affirming a spiritual bond between the two of us. Music involves trust. I’m just going to free fall.”


Surprisingly, Naomi and local philanthropist Catherine Reynolds formed a close friendship after first meeting at an event in Washington in 1993. The elder Judd said, “She [Catherine] came up to me and said ‘I’m a Judd-head.’ ”

“We both came from humble beginnings. We’re the American dream,” Naomi said. “My husband came home one day and said, ‘Cathy is in Forbes magazine [list of America’s richest].’ To me, she’s just Cathy.”


Vince Gill, president of the board of the Country Music Hall of Fame, said it was his first time working with the legendary Ray Price, 80. “[Price is] a pretty salty guy,” Gill told me. “He’s got an ear for fabulous songs.” Price, still recovering from food poisoning after eating casino food in Jackpot, Nev., boarded his bus for the ride back to Texas immediately after the show.


The new White House chief of staff, Josh Bolten, wearing jeans and a blue plaid shirt, relaxed with D.C. charter school teacher Deedy McClure, and surprisingly was BlackBerry-less at the annual PhRMA/Volkswagen Celebrity Tennis Gala to benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation on Saturday evening. The charity, which raised $251,000, presented him with a gift for his support: a copy of John Grogan’s best-seller, “Marley and Me,” a reminder that if he needs a friend in D.C., he should turn to the dog. Thoughtfully, it was purchased at Books-A-Million so the price came in under the $20 gift limit.


Last year, Bolten donated a ride on the back of his Harley for the auction. It went for $1,000 but the recipient hasn’t collected yet. When it was suggested she could resell it, Bolten quipped: “It might be a good investment at this point.”


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