Wynonna Rocks Inspirational Performance at Walter Reed
By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 23, 2008 When country music star Wynonna Judd stepped on stage in the Wagner Sports Center at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here yesterday, it was all about the love.
Army Spc. Chauncy Clayton, a patient administrator at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, is called to the stage by Wynonna Judd so she could playfully correct his pronunciation of her name. He had improperly put the emphasis on “nona.” “It’s WHY-nona,” the star playfully chastised in her country accent. Defense Department photo by Fred W. Baker III
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“Over a year ago, she said, ‘What can I do for the Army, and in particular what can I do for Walter Reed?’” said Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Richard A. Cody as he was introducing the megastar known across the industry as simply “Wynonna.”
“I said, ‘Just come up and tell them you love them,’” he said.
And so she did, in song and in speech.
Half the songs Wynonna performed had the word ‘love’ penned in their titles. In the others, love was a staple of their prose.
“Out of all the flags I've flown, one flies high and stands alone,” sang the Grammy-award-winning artist. “Only love.”
She spent the hours before the concert meeting with staff and wounded warriors. Then to the hundreds who packed into the auditorium, Wynonna belted out in powerful, bluesy vocals, “I Want to Know What Love Is,” and proclaimed “Love Can Build a Bridge,” and later transformed into a “Hunk of Hunk of Burning Love.”
It was just the inspirational ticket the appreciative audience was looking for. The staff of the hospital has spent more than a year in the nation’s hot spotlight after reports surfaced of poor outpatient conditions at the center. Morale also has suffered as the closing of the historical hospital also nears under the base realignment and closure plan, and many staff members are uncertain about their future. And the wounded warriors there spend days, months and even years recovering from horrific wounds rendered by the hands of hate.
“Thanks to you all, … my mother and my sister, we live on a farm together and we sleep at night [because] we know that you all are putting your butts on the line for us,” Wynonna told the crowd. “And I just want you to know that today is just a very small composite of how I feel about you.
“We love you, and we support you,” she said.
And the crowd loved her back.
“We love you too, Wynonna,” they screamed repeatedly between songs amid the whistling and cheers.
Some, however, less familiar with the star, couldn’t get her name right.
“You talking to me?” Wynonna called out to Army Spc. Chauncy Clayton, a patient administrator.
The star summoned him to the stage to correct his misplaced syllable. He had improperly put the emphasis on “nona.”
“It’s WHY-nona,” the star playfully chastised in her country accent, drawing a roar of laughter and applause from the crowd.
In Wynonna’s 24-year career that started with a string of hits she performed with her mother as The Judds, she has garnered more than 21 No. 1 hits, sold 20 million records, six of which turned to platinum and four to gold. She’s won five Grammy awards, nine Country Music Association awards. She has sung for the pope, four presidents and before millions at the Super Bowl.
But yesterday, it was a free tribute to Walter Reed’s staff and patients, with the U.S. Army band serving as her orchestra. Admittedly, though, it was not her typical concert crowd.
“Raise your hand if you’ve ever seen a show of mine before,” Wynonna requested of the audience.
Only a few hands shot up.
Wynonna feigned a shocked look.
“What have you been doing?” she asked and laughed.
But once the show started, the star’s familiar tunes such as “Grandpa (Tell Me 'Bout The Good Old Days)” warmed the crowd.
Wynonna dedicated her classic “Mama He’s Crazy,” to Cody, who she called a father figure. She met the general during his command at Fort Campbell, Ky. He introduced her to the Army and its soldiers.
“Every artist who ever gets a record deal should have to do community service for the Army. It’s sort of my philosophy these days,” Wynonna said.
This met with several enthusiastic “hooahs.”
“Yeah, hooah,” she responded.
Now, Wynonna calls herself an ambassador for the military.
“There are a lot of us, especially in the country music community, who absolutely support you, and everywhere we go we give the message loud and clear that freedom ain’t free,” she said.
Wynonna gave credit to her mother for raising her with a grateful attitude. Her mother raised Wynonna and her sister, actor Ashley Judd, while living on welfare. But even in the early years of the stars’ rise to fame, she sang with her mother, alongside Bob Hope as part of the USO.
“I’m just wanting you to know today that you are really loved. Not just because of what you do, but because of who you are,” she said. “If you all ever need a parade waiver, you know who to call.”
Wynonna joked with the crowd about their motives for coming to the concert.
“I know it got some of you out of work. And that’s a good thing,” she said, and her words were met by the cheers of the crowd.
But for others it was therapy.
“It got some of you out of bed, and that’s a good thing,” she said. “For those of you who I didn’t get to meet today, I’ll be back.”
During a powerful performance of the religious hit “I Can Only Imagine,” in which the singer imagines her response to meeting Jesus, photos of soldiers on their knees praying in combat zones flashed on the large screen on stage.
At the end, the typically fiery redhead had to break. She turned from the crowd, grabbed a tissue, and after a few moments, faced them again, attempting to recompose.
Wynonna talked of taking chances, and risks, and life’s trials. She referred to her own past, spotted with troubles and heartaches.
“You learn so much about yourself when you go to hell and back. You really do,” she told the crowd. “People don’t understand while they’re sitting at home on their … butts complaining about the state of the union. I’m like, ‘Well then get off your butt and go do something about it.’”
For more than an hour, Wynonna commanded the stage, singing, joking and paying tribute to those who serve, both in and out of uniform. She said she felt connected to the crowd.
“I love you,” she told the audience at the end of what should have been her last song.
But the roar of the cheers and a standing ovation brought her back to the stage one more time.
“No One Can Love Me Like You,” Wynonna sang in her encore.
And the crowd believed it.
A tearful Army retiree, now working as a health technician, Christine Engle said the concert was a shot in the arm for the staff and patients there.
“I think it’s great that she’s … out here, with all the things that have happened here at Walter Reed in the past year,” she said. “The care is excellent here, and the [media] have given it such a bad name. With her coming here, it just shows that she appreciates what these soldiers have done … and the staff that works at the hospital. It’s positive thing, and it’s very important.
“It’s a great day,” Engle said.