Get to know Wynonna Judd's two kids: Elijah and Grace Pauline
For Wynonna Judd, family has been a constant in both her personal and professional life — and front and center are her children, Elijah, 28, and Grace Pauline, 27.
Wynonna and her late mother, Naomi Judd, formed The Judds in the early 1980s before both embarked on their respective solo careers. As Wynonna began branching out with her own material in the early 1990s, she also started her family with her first husband, Arch Kelley III. Though the couple were only married for two years, they welcomed two children together: son Elijah and daughter Grace Pauline.
The singer settled into her new role as a mother quickly. Shortly after the birth of her children, she opened up to the Tampa Bay Times in 1997 about her new outlook on life as a mother of two, explaining, “I don't really give a rat's butt about what the world thinks. I used to do anything for acceptance. Now as a mother, I stand there and say, ‘Here's who I am; take me as I am.' ”
"Lots of singers, their identity is focused on the stage. Now I have a separate identity from that stage. I come home and I'm a mama,” she continued. “There's a confidence that a lot of people have commented on lately. You can lose 50 pounds or buy a great car and still be the same desperate person. It comes from inside. The spirit doesn't get fed enough in this business. I'll find it through my babies and God, not on the charts."
Wynonna’s feelings about being a mother didn’t waver throughout her career or changes in her personal life. After she split from her second husband, D. R. Roach, she told Ladies Home Journal she was only focused on her children.
“I am a mother first and foremost,” she told the outlet in 2007. “I’m now focused on saving myself and the children. It is hard to detach overnight. I’m healing in my own time. And so I do wear my ring. And I think what I’m teaching my kids is, ‘This happened. This is where Mom is right now. And there’s always hope.’ ”
Read on to learn more about Wynonna Judd’s two children, Elijah and Grace Pauline.
Elijah Judd, 28
Wynonna and Kelley welcomed their first child together, son Elijah, on Dec. 23, 1994. The “No One Else on Earth” singer gave her firstborn a family name. During an October 2022 interview with PEOPLE, Wynonna explained that her son was named after her “great, great, great grandfather,” whom she also mentions in The Judds’ song “Guardian Angels.”
At the time of Elijah’s birth, Wynonna and Kelley were not yet married. During a 1996 appearance on Entertainment Tonight, the singer addressed an interviewer who called the birth of her son an “unplanned pregnancy,” explaining, “I found myself feeling strange about that word because to me, even though I was politically incorrect, it was, I think, inevitable for Elijah to be here.”
“This is God’s way of saying, ‘It’s time for you to have a real life and it’s time to find out if you can get along with a man and not get on a bus and leave town and say I’ll see you later,’ ” she added.
During a 2007 interview with GRANDmagazine, Naomi discussed her grandchildren and noted one of Elijah’s best characteristics. “Elijah could be a standup comedian, and he knows that he has pleased me with his sense of humor since he was born,” the proud grandmother said.
Elijah proposed to his girlfriend, Hailey Williams, in December 2017 after seven years together. Wynonna shared several photos on Instagram documenting the moment, including a snap of her son down on one knee popping the question and one of the engagement ring, as well as several pictures of the newly engaged couple. They wed on Oct. 17, 2020.
For Elijah’s 26th birthday later that year, the country singer posted an Instagram photo posing with her son on his wedding day, revealing the date of the nuptials in the caption. She wrote in part, “To my first born, who turns 26 today, I look at this picture & it’s hard to believe that you’re married! Happy Birthday Son ... I am so very proud of you.”
In the years before her death at age 76 in April 2022, Elijah's grandmother Naomi also opened up to PEOPLE about her relationship with Wynonna and her grandchildren. Though she hadn’t seen her daughter much due to her touring and work schedule, Naomi told PEOPLE in 2016 that Wynonna and Elijah had made an appearance at one of her weekly Thursday night dinners. She explained, “Everybody knows that on Thursday nights at 6 o’clock if you’re in town, come over and there’s going to be tons of food and we do bent-over double belly laughs and we play games.”
Grace Pauline Kelley, 27
Wynonna and Kelley welcomed their second child together, daughter Grace Pauline, on June 21, 1996. During her 1997 interview with the Tampa Bay Times, Wynonna said she “almost died” when giving birth to Grace, adding, “Let's just say, I don't want to get back into the delivery room. But I came the closest I've come to dying. It'll be a year in June, and I'm just starting to feel human again.”
She also opened up to the outlet about the special bond she shared with her daughter, explaining, "I have a separate and unique love for Grace. It's funny when you have one and become pregnant again. You think, ‘How can I love another?' But you make room."
Growing up, Naomi described her granddaughter as having a “very strong-willed personality” to GRANDmagazine. She also said Grace was “incredibly creative” and could sing and dance, adding, “It is a bit scary because she is so intuitive with body language.”
When Grace was 22, she was sentenced to eight years in prison after violating her probation for leaving a court-mandated drug recovery program from a 2017 drug-related arrest. The Sun reported she was granted parole in April 2021 but was arrested again that August for violating her probation. Grace was released from prison in December 2022. In 2023, Grace also served a five-month sentence at Putnam County Jail following a May 2023 arrest for violating parole and an order of protection, according to The U.S. Sun.
Wynonna has scarcely discussed her daughter’s legal troubles publicly. However, the mom of two has become somewhat of a criminal justice reform activist. After her daughter was sent back to prison, Wynonna met with White House officials in 2019 to “discuss criminal justice reform and ways the administration can continue to enhance reentry programs for inmates and curb the return-to-prison rate," per Politico.
In a February 2020 appearance on Fox Nation's The Pursuit! with John Rich, she made rare comments about her daughter, telling the host, “I'm no different than anyone else. I've got kids who have made great successful choices. I have just as much to say about the testimony, emphasis on the word 'test,' of both my children saying, 'Wow, that didn't work.' ”
“I will tell you this. My daughter is the strongest Judd woman in our 'herstory,’ ” Wynonna added. "She's healthier than I was at 23. How she got there — I would not go that way, but I was also sequestered. I was on a bus with my mother. Kind of hard to get in trouble. So that could have been me, John, if I didn't have music.”
Grace is the mother of a young daughter, Kaliyah, who was born on April 13, 2022. Wynonna announced the birth of her granddaughter in a May 2022 Instagram post. In the caption, the singer reflected on how she would become “a healthier grandparent” to her first grandchild and “break the cycle of addiction & family dysfunction.”
“I know that it is a simple steps program, and those steps are not easy to take at times,” she wrote. “Therefore, I’ve made a commitment to keep doing the ‘next right thing,’ and schedule weekly appointments so that I continue with the ongoing work, even when I have good days.”
Later that year, during an October 2022 interview on Today, she told Hoda Kotb that her granddaughter was her “rock” in the months after her mother’s death. She explained, “She's 6 months old and she doesn't speak yet but she looks right through me.”
"She gives me hope," she added. “They give you hope; they give you something to think about other than yourself. Because so much of what we do is about us, so it's nice to be with her because she doesn't care what I look like."
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