Jelly Roll and K. Michelle on what Covering The Judds’ “Love Can Build a Bridge” Meant to Them

Jelly Roll and K. Michelle have distinct memories of hearing The Judds growing up. Both Tennessee natives (Jelly Roll is from Nashville and K. Michelle grew up just outside of Memphis) have a profound respect for the duo of Naomi Judd and daughter Wynonna Judd who were a mainstay on country radio throughout the 1980s and ’90s, particularly with their signature hit “Love Can Build a Bridge.” Naomi passed away in April 2022, yet her legacy lives on in the Judds’ music, which is honored with the new album, A Tribute to the Judds.

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Now, Jelly Roll and K. Michelle have lent their voices to a cover of “Love Can Build a Bridge” featuring the Fisk Jubilee Singers on A Tribute to the Judds. The two cross-genre singers also brought their rendition of the song to the stage for a stunning performance at the 2023 CMA Awards that closed out the show.

“I really grew up with this song,” Jelly Roll tells American Songwriter. Meanwhile, the first album K. Michelle owned on cassette tape as a child was Love Can Build a Bridge, and recalls being infatuated with the Judds watching them on The Oprah Winfrey Show. “I just love their spunk and their red hair, the music, the lyrics, everything about them,” raves K. Michelle. “It’s full circle for me right now.”

In an interview with American Songwriter, Jelly Roll and K. Michelle opened up about the Judds’ impact, why it was important to sing “Love Can Build A Bridge” at the CMA Awards, and how the baptism of Jelly Roll’s daughter brought more meaning to the recording.

[RELATED: Watch: Jelly Roll and Wynonna Judd Open 2023 CMA Awards with a Bang]

American Songwriter (AS): What inspired you to be a part of the Judds tribute album?

Jelly Roll (JR): I have a deep deep connection and love for Wynonna and a tremendous amount of respect for her late mother and the legacy that the Judds left and what they meant to people from Tennessee and to country music and my mother — you grow up listening to country music, you grow up listening to the Judds.

K. Michelle (KM): I have always talked about them. Anyone who knows me, like my fans, they buy me all type of Judds stuff and other country artists that I love. So when Naomi passed, I was really hurt about that, like the rest of the world. So they said, ‘Are you okay?’ So people talking to me about how it affected me and then [the Judds team] saw me sing and then they went looking for me.

AS: How have the Judds inspired or influenced you musically and as a songwriter?

KM: A lot as far as songwriting, just being very detailed. I am a writer and I think people really love me as an artist for my writing. I started to hear the stories that were being told [by the Judds] and the edge and just how they work. They reminded me of me attitude-wise. Being a writer, you pay attention to lyrics and what they do and how they make you feel.

AS: A Tribute to the Judds producer Brent Maher said how excited you were to work with K. Michelle. How did you discover K. Michelle and what made you want to work with her?

JR: 2013ish maybe earlier and I remember thinking how unbelievable her voice is. I always wanted to work with her because I love her spirit, every time I see her in an interview or hear her sing, the lord comes out of her larynx and you can feel the passion. I loved how she also grew up listening to the Judds and how much this tribute meant to her. It was important for me to work with someone who this tribute meant as much to them as it did me.

AS: Why is this song special to sing at the CMA Awards?

JR: I was the most excited to let K. Michelle have her moment. She deserved it, she belonged on that stage at the CMAs and I thought it was really cool to see her tear the house down.

AS: What it is about “Love Can Build a Bridge” that you love?

KM: “Love Can Build a Bridge” is a song that’s bringing everybody together. There’s too much going on in the world right now. Everyone’s so open now with their hate towards each other and I feel like to bring such a classic song back right now, [love] really can build a bridge. We all believe the same and we all desire and need the same love. I feel like being able to sing that in front of everything that’s going on right now, I feel like it makes a statement.

AS: Maher also mentioned that your daughter was baptized just before recording the song. Is that true? If so, how did that shape your experience in the studio?

JR: It’s true. She was actually Baptized that same day I went to the studio. It definitely made it feel more soulful, a little more spiritual. I think it was awesome that K. Michelle got on the song too and gave it more of a gospel flare.

AS: How do you feel like you and Jelly Roll captured the spirit of this song with your recording?

KM: I think we put our own spin on it. I saw Wynonna said that she loved the song and Jelly Roll talked about how he spoke to her before doing it and wanted to make sure everything was right. We bring who we are. We call ourself outlaws, and that’s my outlaw brother. He says, ‘This my outlaw sister.’ We are kind of the black sheep when it comes to this, but our love for country music is true and it’s who we are. Country is a space for everyone, as it should be – great music, great writers – and that’s what it’s about.

Photo by Terry Wyatt/Getty Images

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